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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Korean Vegetarian Delicacies : Bibimbap

My first ever signature Korean dish - Bibimbap

And so I came to Korea with lots of misconception about unavailability of vegetarian food. I can't really be blamed now, can I? I mean, when the whole world, literally, bombards you with questions like "Korea? But how about food? How are you going to manage?" and "God, do they even know what vegetarianism is? They eat dogs, for god's sake!!" and, well....the list  goes on....Like duh...People.....

Just let me get this straight. To all those people out there, listen to this. If there's a will, there's a way! Don't give reasons for something that you choose not to do. Period. For your information, from the time I got to Korea, I hadn't had a single problem getting vegetarian food. Zilch. You don't believe that now, do you? Well, you better do, because that's the honest truth, nothing but the truth! So, how did I manage? See, it's really simple. A problem becomes a problem only when you see it as such!

Hence, the first thing I did, was to find out how to say that in Korean. And I did. In Korean :

a) I'm a vegetarian --> "naanen cheshik juijareyo"

b) I don't eat meat, seafood and eggs --> "naanen gogi, haysanmul, thalgael 
                                                                          anmogoyo"

So, which ones do I say at restaurants? Well, I say both!! Let me tell you something. Koreans are very hospitable in nature. They really do love to feed you and provide the best of service.  If you could just speak their language, that is, and tell them exactly what you want.

By reading some helpful posts online, I learned that generally there is a minor misconception about vegetarianism here in Korea. When you say "I'm a vegetarian", you might end up getting floating pieces of egg, or bits of meat in your dish. I thought about this, and realized that the only way to help them understand was my repeating my words twice, from different contexts. And I was right!! It helped!:)

So, here I declare my first ever vegetarian meal in Korea - their signature dish "Bibimbap" which means mixed rice in Korean. Where did I have it? During my trip to Seoul, at the Seoul Metro Train Station!


On the left, is my lip-smacking bibimbap, and my husband's Ramen noodles on the right...
Bibimbap (translated as mixed rice) is actually a very humble, satisfying rice dish with blanched, yet fresh vegetable  (carrots, mushrooms, beans sprouts, turnips) and some raw lettuce, usually topped with meat or egg. Of course, being vegetarian, you could opt not to have it in the dish.

So, what's so special about this simple dish, you may wonder.....Well, it's the generous dollop of spicy red sauce right at the top of the dish! That just lends a completely different experience, you have my word for that!!

Also, it's important to ask for "Dolsot bibimbap" which means "hot plate bibimbap", where the dish is served on a hot plate (as above). Interestingly, Koreans love devouring hot and cold food (where food is, sometimes, mixed with ice, especially in summer). 

So, by using the world "dolsot", you can then be reassured that the dish remains hot throughout your meal. Most Korean main dishes come with lots of side dishes,  Kimchi being a compulsory one. There's also a small bowl of soy soup (again, ask to ensure it's vegetarian), depending on the eatery.

So, what did I think of my Bibimbap? Now, how would a spoonful of hot steaming rice, fresh crunchy vegetable with a dash of traditional Korean hot sauce taste? Absolutely breathtaking, I must say! My first ever Bibimbap was an unforgettable experience. My husband told me that I looked so "contented" throughout the day, bless him:)))). Well, what dya expect?

With my increased confidence in using the language post Bibimbap success, I've ventured into having the same meal in a number of restaurants in Ulsan. But, you know what they say about the first time always being special....and to me, my first Korean dish at the overcrowded Seoul Metro Train station was definitely 'love at first sight". It was perfect. It was timeless. It was heaven. Amen.

Places Explored : Junjeon Black Pebble Beach

Junjeon Black Pebble Beach

And so we've just been reading some super-sensational news from BBC about a the powerful Typhoon Bolaven which is going to hit South Korea tonight. Apparently, it's already caused some massive destruction in the island of Okinawa, Japan. One of the most interesting things I read about typhoons is the fact that if the energy from a typhoon or cyclone can be harnessed, it's actually able to provide power source for a city that could last for a few years...wow wow wow! The mightiness of nature, one could never quite fathom it....


Waves storming away in Busan, 420km southeast of Seoul (picture and information courtesy of  http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/asia/story/photo-gallery-typhoon-bolaven-pounds-south-korea-20120829)

So now, back to our trip to Junjeon Black Pebble Beach. It's been sometime back, and the three of us couples decided to make it our outing for the weekend. It was Sasya, my friend's, birthday, and we decided to buy a cake and surprise her at the beach. Piya's wonderful idea, I gotta give her some credit for that....

Anyway, we took the bus on a Saturday afternoon from the Gotbawi Bus Junction, and if I recall, I think it was bus number 121 or 123. Well, no worries, you just need to show pictures of Junjeon Pebble beach to the bus driver and he'll usually understand. 

It took us about, say, an hour to get there. I was quite surprised because at one point, he was actually driving uphill?!?....Which did not seem like the way one takes to get to the beach. But anyhow, we finally reached the place. The wind was chilly and strong, and the waves were pleasantly crashing against the shore. The loveliest part about this beach is yes, as I've said, it's filled with beautiful black pebbles, different sizes, shapes...I've read somewhere before that walking on pebbles is a good reflexology for the legs, so walking barefoot on these pebbles is definitely recommended.



Locals fishing and having a great time with family....
Lovely pebbles in all shades...

We had a lovely time there, laughing, enjoying the lovely breeze, and most of all, basking in each other's company, as you can see below. 


Took them some time to coax me to get up there.... 

Bee and me......

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Places Explored : Buddhist Temple, Dong Gu Area

Buddhist Temple - Dong Gu Area

As I'm writing this, I'm listening to, and getting completely immersed in the voice of Charice Pempengco, the legendary singing dynamo of a girl from the Philippines. Well, I did stumble upon her sometime back on YouTube, and that's it....! I was hooked to the very bits...Man, what a voice that is!

 Well, we've got to thank her fan who posted her sensational tv show on YouTube AND Ellen Degeneres for discovering this young dynamite of a talent, and giving her the opportunity to make that mark in the US. Well, I'm really not surprised that she always has, and always will, bring down the house and move hearts...This is, for you, and trust me, as Ellen Degeneres says, 'you are gonna be blown away!' HOW does she do it?....


     (courtesy of YouTube)

Now, THAT was something, wasn't it? :) For a 16 year old girl...My, my oh my.....

Okay.....back to this Buddhist Temple. Well, there are absolutely NO Hindu Temples here in Ulsan. Zilch. None. The nearest would be the Buddhist Temple. So my friends, Sasya and Piya, called me the day before a worldwide Hindu celebration and say "shall we go to a Buddhist Temple? We know one that's close by and we can take the cab there." They sounded pretty confident, hence, I agreed. I, for one, had no idea on how to explain to the cab driver nor get there. Left it to the gals.

It turned out to be a quite a hilarious trip after all.:)

Well, let's just put it this way. They 'thought' they knew the place, and when the taxi started going uphill a secluded place, everyone of us panicked. Well, you know what happens when women panic. We get all excited and dramatic, voices high pitched, saying 'stop, stop'. God, I wish I'd recorded that moment on a video cam or something. tsk tsk tsk...

To cut the long story short, we finally managed to get the message across to the cab driver, by the way, and sighed in relief when she said "ne, ne"....(yes, yes in Korean language). And...there we were, right at the entrance of the temple.


that's piya, by the way...

Temple entrance....
It was a wonderful feeling inside the temple; very peaceful, calm, pristine...A feeling that calmed your nerves....We sat at at the main sanctum for a bit; then walked up some stairs to another secluded Buddhist altar. Well, honestly, the energy inside felt scintillating and calming at the same instance; one felt as if time's frozen in eternity....

We had a wonderful time at the temple. Unfortunately, I can't quite remember the name of the temple, or the exact location of it. Then again, if it really is your calling, you'll find the temple....

Monday, August 20, 2012

Places Explored : Dewangam Park

Dewangam Park, Ulsan


Oh wow, it's been ages (if you consider 4 months in that category, of course) since I visited Dewangam Park, and I'm finally getting around to writing about it! 

Well, that was the first place my husband took me upon me arriving here at this coastal city. If I recall, I think it was the very second day I set foot on this land. I suppose he didn't want to waste too much time, or perhaps just intended to keep me excited about visiting a place for the next week that came by:) Either way, it was all good.

The whole experience of travelling by bus and walking, was, and still is, exciting and exhilarating to me. For one reason : safety, safety and safety. People, both in Malaysia, AND Korea, have asked me what I like most about Korea, and my answer has always been the same: "safety and the feeling of being secure". Again, this is entirely my opinion; for sure, there'd be many who'd disagree with me. But the truth, and the painful truth remains: Korea seems much safer than Malaysia is. Women can walk around freely without worrying about someone snatching their purses or necklaces, threatening with knives, and such. Malaysia is a beautiful country, and I love it to the very bits. Unfortunately, the crime rates are increasing exponentially these days, or so says my mom. Oh well.....

Anyway, back to Dewangam Park. Yes, we took bus number 104 from the ever famous Gotbawi bus junction (almost like my second home here in Ulsan), and got off at the DAISO store in the district of Dong Gu. Well, in reality, you can take buses 104, 106, 401, 133 or 127 from Gotbawi bus junction, heading towards old downtown (Seongnamdong) or new downtown (Samsandong). Once you get off at DAISO, walk towards Ilsan beach and turn right. You'll soon reach the steps that lead to Dewangam Park.

The road that leads to Dewangam Park....

Just to give you a better picture in case you decide to come to Ulsan.....

What are they trying to say? Beer and food for shrimp, maybe? tsk tsk tsk...

The great thing about walking to Dewangam Park is the fact that you've got to walk pass the entire stretch of Ilsan Beach, which is a place most Ulsanites and foreigners hang out on weekends (or perhaps, even after a long day at work). So, the path is filled with bars, clubs, pubs and coffee houses. One can imagine how lively it would be at night. What say you? Is your imagination in sync with the photo of below? Yes? My oh my, you're quite a visionary, aren't you? :)

The stretch along Ilsan Beach......now how is that???
Well, the walk up the stairs didn't end there. We then had to walk through a forest cum park, which was really, the slopes around a hill. Not the best time to take pictures with you panting, and huffing your way along. Thank god the weather was great, it being the end of  spring and the dawn of summer and all...

That smile is a camouflage the huffing and puffing....:)....
And finally.....a picture of Mr.hubby, the man who's usually behind the camera lens........
But, you know what? All that huffing and puffing...It was well-worth it, I must tell ya! For, there, beneath our eyes, lay one of the most beautiful sights that I've seen in a long time; so utterly delightful it was almost surreal. The lens of the camera can never quite capture the tranquility and magnificence of what the eyes feasted upon. It was the the boundless blue sea, sparkling and glittering in the evening sun; ships, huge and small, bobbing peacefully, almost spelling out a long and hard day's work; the trees far far away, and most of all, the natural rock formation that had a legend of an old princess attached to it. No wonder Dewangam Park's been cited as 'one of the most scenic places in Ulsan'.

I'm not sure if the pictures below would do my explanation any credit at all, but I hope it does in some way. We'll let it speak for itself now, shall we?


The ships....."nun di jauh sana" as how it goes in the Malay language....

So......is he pondering about what the future beholds....or...looking for crabs?

Isn't that spectacular?

The trademark of Ulsan......the shipyard...one can never EVER miss that...

The ocean is enigmatic now, isn't it? Can't quite predict it....



























Oh yea....at the peak of the rock formations, I found something rather interesting; lots and lots of 'rusty' padlocks entwined together. Upon inquiry, I found that these padlocks were a symbol of 'eternal love'. Lovers who came here believed if they locked two padlocks together, they'll be eternally together, inseparable....

And before we knew it, the sun had already gone down the horizon. As we headed back down the hill from Dewangam Park, I caught myself thinking about those locks. And I'll leave you here with my thoughts....Now, is there such a thing as 'eternal love'?....hmmm...point to ponder....

Padlocks of eternal love...

So.....when the padlocks turn rusty, does love turn rusty as well? hmm.....think about it....

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Dawn of a New Beginning : Ulsan, South Korea

My initial days in Ulsan....
It's been about a month and a half since I got to Korea and what can I say, man, it's been a ball of an experience, so much so I feel like my mind is bursting to it's brims! Never a day have I regretted the fact that I left my job, my car, our home and moved to Korea, the land of the unknown then. Of course, my only concern was leaving my family behind but hey, with the advent of the technological age (Skype and the likes of it) I don't feel it much at all. Just a 'sign in' away, and I'm in touch with them. So there....
                                                                                                    
A view of the lovely seaside city we're living in, Ulsan...


























Ulsan - The City....
I started loving this city from the day I arrived here. But before I go on about Ulsan itself, some due credit surely needs to be given to South Korea as a whole. My first impressions of the country were surely on positive notes; it started from my observation of how organized and fast-paced people were at Incheon International Airport. Once we collected our baggage, me and Mr.Hubby literally had to race to the special bus stand, luggage and all, which was situated right at the entrance of the airport. And we weren't alone..... Racing with us were a whole lot of Koreans as well!!! (Unfortunately, I couldn't get a picture of this..) :)

Well, I guess we had a choice of either taking a taxi or the bus to Gimpo Airport, but hey, why not start blending into the local culture from the very beginning and just take the bus? :)

Another thing that appealed to me about South Korea is how easily one can find mineral water dispensers at literally all public places. The best part is that it actually comes with a paper cup, and a choice of BOTH hot and cold water! Well, interestingly, in the country that yours truly came from, this wasn't something common..(despite it being in a tropical region with lots of water resources from the torrential rains that pours)...You usually have to pay a minimal sum for water...

Aaaaah...well...I think I'm getting a little sidetracked here...let's get back to Ulsan....tsk tsk tsk...:)

So, once we landed in Ulsan airport from Gimpo airport, we took a taxi back home. Surprise of all surprises, by the way, all taxis are metered here in Korea, doesn't matter which time of the day and doesn't matter as to whether you're a local or an expat! Hmm....so unlike Ma______sia (please fill in your own blanks!)...

The very first thing I noticed about Ulsan is the breathtaking backdrop of the shipyard. My oh my, what a glorious sight it was! Thanks to Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI, that's where my husband works, by the way), Ulsan houses the largest shipyard in the world...IN THE WORLD! It almost feels like the trademark of Ulsan;no, wait. It IS the trademark of Ulsan! No matter where you turned, you'd end up seeing humongous shipping cranes soaring so high up into the skies that one needs to squint one's eyes against the sunlight to take a peek. I almost cheekily came up with a saying "if you ever get lost in Ulsan, look up...and follow the direction of the cranes"....Check out what I mean in the photo below...

taken from the rooftop of my studio apartment, can you see the shipping crane?
 Unfortunately, we're not allowed to take pictures of shipyards (I suppose the Koreans are afraid of technological infringement, who's to blame them?), so all I can offer is a view of the shipyard taken from miles apart..it's still quite a sight, as you can see ....

Shipyard view from Deawangam Park, Ulsan (picture courtesy of Mr.hubby)
                                                                                                                                                            
Now, for a little bit of geography. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulsan, Ulsan's got a population of 1.1 million people and is the industrial powerhouse of Korea. Well, I'm not going to go on, you can read the rest from the wikipedia link above....

So, you might ask me what is it about Ulsan that's so besotting? Well, I think it's a beautiful city, lucky enough to have mountainous terrains and the sea close by. My home's a stone throw away from the sea (which really did shock my grandmother though, for all she could say was "what if the tsunami strikes? Will you be safe?"...hmm....point to ponder), and sometime evenings I take a stroll to the seaside and just let my thoughts flow by. Also, the population of 1.1 million is a fair figure for a city with an area of 1058.92 square km, which generally means you can walk around the city without feeling that it's overcrowded with people. Oh, trust me, you'll know what I mean if you've visited Shanghai, Seoul or Chennai!


Ulsan - The People....
Ulsan's actually got a pretty fair mix of expatriates and the locals, although it's pretty tough trying to place us expatriates. When I walk along the streets, I see an occasional Caucasian, Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian or Philipino face. A curt nod, a dash of smile and off we trod along our paths.

When I came to Ulsan, I made a mental note to befriend as many people as possible from different walks of life. I strongly believe that this would truly be an enriching experience. How right I was! Apart from some of my expatriate friends, I've made friends with some lovely Korean ladies as well.  Which reminds me that I've got to get some pictures with some of my friends here!I'll be posting them sometime later this month. But here's a picture of me with my new friends from India, enjoying ourselves at the Black Pebble beach, Ulsan...

Me, Sasya, and Piyali......the fun we have is indescribable...


























The next thing I knew and within the blink of eye, the waves crashed into those rocks and I was soaked wet.....yikes.....wasn't really the best possible thing to happen, since it was only the start of summer and the wind was extremely chilly, at least to a person who came from an all-year-round summer country like me! Well, I guess I just had to take it with a pinch of salt!!!!!:P Life's like a box of chocolates, full of surprises, eh?

Ulsan - The famous port - Bangeojin (where I live)

The main street at Bangeojin, where I live
Me at my apartment - Rheabill (thank you sasya for taking the picture!




















































Thought of starting of with a couple of photos....! :) Well, I can't help it, can I? After all, a photo speaks a thousand words!!

The place we live in is known as Bangeojin, which happens to be in the Dong Gu District. Well, there are 4 main districts in Ulsan : Dong-Gu, Jung-Gu, Nam-Gu, and Buk Gu. I'm guessing that the word 'Gu' means district in Korean language. Interestingly, according to my  ex-student, Chang Jin Yo, The words 'Dong', 'Jung', 'Nam' and 'Buk' actually refers to the different directions (north, south, east, and west). I really think it's such an ingenious way of segmenting and naming a city! From my observation, I'd say Bangeojin is famous because it is the main location for Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI, where my hubby works).

Oh, by the way, that's me, Chang, and his friends at Ilsan beach, taken about a week ago (picture below). These boys drove all the way from Daegu (another metropolitan city, larger than Ulsan) to visit me and devour some warm, Indian vegetarian food. They looked like they enjoyed it immensely!
Chang (far left), friends and myself at Ilsan beach....





























Anyway, back to Bangeojin. I consider myself extremely lucky because I live so close to the main bus stop of my district - the Gotbawi bus station (better known as Gotbawi bus junction, or Kopayi bus station - I wonder where THAT pronunciation came from, when I heard it I couldn't help burst out laughing! I mean, it sounded like some traditional Tamil name like Suppaayi, Karuppaaaayi, Mangaayi, Koppaaayi...get the drift?.tsk tsk tsk....:)))))))

Gotbawi bus Junction - 2 minutes walk from my apartment...


























The best part about staying so close to Gotbawi is the fact that you are able to travel to most parts of Ulsan. Even if you don't, you could still get the connecting bus to Ulsan Intercity Bus Terminal, which is located at New downtown ( as we call it) or Samsandong (as the locals call it). All you need is a bus card (as shown in picture below) that you can purchase from any of the 7-Eleven shops in Bangeojin, and top up whenever necessary.

Ulsan Intercity Bus Terminal - picture courtesy of  http://english.visitkorea.or.kr
Two varieties of bus cards that you can buy...























































And the second best thing about staying here is......tada!!!!!!!! the sea, the blue blue sea, which is a mere stone's throw away from my apartment. In fact, you can get a glimpse of it from the rooftop......aaaaah...the bliss of just devouring the sight of one of HIS wonders...hmmm.....at some point you feel like you yourself are immersed as the sea...that the sea and you are ONE......

This was taken from the rooftop....managed to catch a boat at that!.......:)