Saturday, May 30, 2009

The one I forgot about

Last week I wrote about my fear that my 8th grade units are always accompanied by disaster - the hurricane/earthquake units that lined up with hurricanes and earthquakes, and this year's corruption unit, finished just yesterday, that was concurrent with both the President Roh investigation and Roh's suicide. I joked that I hoped that nobody would try to stick me with teacher bribery, since that was another part of our unit.

Well, we've jumped from grade 8 to grade 9. 9th grade just finished the unit on the Korean War, with vocabulary words like armistice and truce, which are evidently not so relevant anymore. Yes, on the 27th, North Korea declared their rejection of the armistice, opening the door for potential military confrontations. The media has produced speculation from the levelheaded (Above, "But analysts played down the likelihood of a full-scale conflict between North and South Korea but said clashes near the sea border were possible.") to the WHARRGARBL EVERYBODY PANIC ("...if the North were to strike South Korea today, it would probably first try to savage Seoul with the men and missiles of its huge conventional army").

Clearly I'm no expert on North Korea - I'm barely a dilettante on South Korea - so I don't have any predictions of any kind here. (And, after writing my senior thesis on the fall of Nanjing, I don't want to go there and jinx anything). I can tell you that everybody is going about their business and no South Koreans seem particularly stressed. They have a seen-it-before attitude with North Korean saber rattling - they've done it so many times in the past. Most people think that this may be posturing to drum up domestic support in North Korea for a transition from Kim to one of his sons.

So what can I say to parents who are freaking out? Other Korea bloggers offer this:

The Marmot's Hole: "[a journalist] is taking North Korean threats a bit too seriously — North Korea is ALWAYS threatening to do something scary."

GI Korea
: "I have been reading today about all the people concerned about war on the peninsula because of North Korea withdrawing from the armistice agreement. What these people fail to realize is that the North Koreans never followed the armistice agreement to begin with... So this threat to not respect the Armistice Agreement is nothing new and being used by North Korea to legitimize any response to any South Korean attempt to board and inspect North Korean ships. As I have stated before joining and actually enforcing the PSI are two different things and North Korea is letting it be known that there will be consequences if the PSI is enforced."

Generally not worried, then. We're registered with the Embassy, we'll wire our U.S. dollar money home soon, and I took a page from Japan's playbook which I learned about at the Emergency Preparedness Center: all Japanese people keep emergency backpacks at home by the door in the event of an earthquake. So I've filled a little pack with a first-aid kit, our passports, hats and sunscreen, some food, and U.S. dollars, in case we need to move quickly. I don't expect (with a giant knock on wood here) that we'll need it, and I hope very much to feel stupid when I unpack this for heading home in a few weeks. But it gives me some peace of mind to have it.

Send peaceful vibes!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tteok Tteok Goose

As posted previously, Justin and I attended the 7th Seoul International Rice Cake Festival a few weekends back. Here are some shots from the exhibition (as opposed to the other post, about people in weird costumes outside the exhibition).

Traditionally, rice cake is made by whacking the dough with a hammer, Mario-style. Justin would tell you (if he weren't in Shanghai, of course) that the blur comes from the fact that his camera flash is broken. I think it's because the camera couldn't handle my hammerin' skillz.

From the rice cake competition:

Namdaemun Gate, rice-cake style:

A rice-cake pond of turtles:

From one of the multiple non-competitive rice cake exhibits: A replica of the rice cakes served to former president G.W. Bush on his visit to Korea (I thin; the signage English was a little hazy. But I assume it's not the originals, as they'd be a) gross and b) eaten by now)

They had replicas of rice cake meals served to many world leaders, but for some reason the only other one I remember is Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines. I have no idea why.

Coworker Meghan and I try our hands at some rice cake-ing:

Here we roll out a different type of rice dough for the flower decorations you see in the final picture:

The almost-finished product, a green-tea flavored rice cake:

Actually, I think the rice cake we made is the best rice cake I've had here. No, seriously! Here's the thing: the more attractive rice cakes look, generally, the blander and more glutinous they are. Check out the Wikipedia entry: those pretty pink ones halfway down the page, labeled kkul tteok? You bite down on them, and they spring right back up. And they really don't have any flavor at all. Sure, they say on the page that they've got honey, or bean, or what have you, but basically, to me, it's like eating flour and water, unless they're rolled in something or filled with something. (We did try one here that tasted like, well, pesto. I think that means it had basil in it?) I think it's part of the general pattern of Korean food, which is 80% spicy, 15% bland, and 5% non-spicy but flavorful.

This cake we made goes in that 5%, with a grainy, banana-bread style texture, and a nice mild green tea flavor. I never saw one like it before today - or at least I didn't realize it was also a rice cake. I would definitely eat it again. (Our pretty decorations, by the way? Of the bland school. But on top of the cake instead of as their own dish, they just added some texture, so it went well).

The strangest thing about the rice cake festival was how little rice cake was actually available for eating. The exhibitors brought booths, but mostly it was for bulk order of $50 corporate gift rice cakes, or rice cake manufacturing equipment. Only about 2 booths gave out free samples, with a further 4 or so selling cheap (1000-2000KRW, about $1) small packets. It was much more for industry display and for education than for interactive eating.

I almost forgot to mention this, but at the end, we sat down by the stage show (of COURSE you have a stage show at a rice cake festival; don't you people know anything about Asia?) just to get off our feet. And the guy was shouting in Korean and everybody started raising their hands, so just to be goofy I put my hand up too. Apparently I was trying to win a little rice cake packet, and I did, because Rule #1 of Korean public events is Call On the Foreigner (see Justin's adventures in martial arts masterdom for further evidence). And then he decided that my name was Julia, and for the next few minutes while we sat there I'd hear him say Julia now and then, and everybody would laugh. So this last part goes out to my brother and sister: I go to the other side of the world, but everybody still laughs at me! What's a girl gotta do?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Getting Shanghaied

I've been Shanghaied into chaperoning the 9th grade trip to Shanghai (that horse dead yet?), so I'm going to be out of touch through Saturday night.

Nana will still be in Seoul if you need to get in touch.