They say that life is a journey and not a destination, but sometimes when you are travelling it’s nice to have some kind of a destination. This is especially true in Korean cities which are mostly late 20th century places with lots of concrete apartment complexes, outlet malls and out of control commercial signs. Le Corbusier would probably love the Korean metropoles – they are machines for living in. It seems that some new ideas do take off very quickly in Korea.

There has been a trend for out of town complexes like Art Towns, Book towns and conference centres. Many of them probably looked better on paper than in real life. In their enthusiasm, some planners and architects forget that gardeners need to weed between the cracks of concrete, window cleaners need to clean the sheer 100 metre glass windows and retailers actually need to rent out the commercial units. Without those basics the drawing board utopias can quickly end up looking like the sets of poorly conceived sci-fi shows. The concrete and steel rarely sit well in their surroundings if they are not maintained and more importantly – used.

With all this in mind I was very skeptical about going to an out of town coffee ‘factory’ on the outskirts, the very hem of the skirt in this case. The place in question is the Coffee Factory of the Terarosa firm. It is the biggest domestic Coffee company in Korea and has a family owned, kind to farmers kind of feel. I have been to a few branches in Korea and found that it has a strong brand identity and is a welcome change from the other run of the mill places. Run of the mill in this case is the usual concrete urban interior with bookless bookshelves and a really expensive coffee roasting machine – which you can SEE!

After decrypting the bus timetable outside Gangneung Bus Terminal, I decided to take a taxi. It was a great decision which I failed to make on the return journey. The factory is right at the edge of town, the car park is spitting distance from the ring road, if you can spit quite far. The taxi pulled up round the back of the complex and it felt like I was entering another World. To enhance the feeling, a south american looking chap crossed my path decked out in earthy tones and an apron. In contrast to the distopian feel of many new buildings in Korea it felt quite positive. The natural landscape seemed to fit around the impressively big structures. I had to cross a kind of mini Indiana Jones bridge to get to the main edifice(s). The scale of the buildings was impressive but not overwhelming. It felt like there had been an apocalypse but it was a really really long time ago and people had just forgotten about everything apart from coffee and bread. It reminded me of the excellent film version of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Kind of a sixties version of what the future might be like. If I go again I will definitely wear a turtleneck.

Despite fitting in reasonably well with the vegetable gardens and general rural vibe, the Terarosa Factory is something of an oasis in an otherwise typically provincial and unremarkable setting. Even the visiting ajummas (middle aged Korean women) were dressed in more earthy and dare I say tasteful clothes than usual. One of the most impressive things about Korea which I have never adjusted to is the brightly coloured leisurewear of the older citizens. But in this post industrial concrete bunker of hipness, everyone seemed very at home, almost camouflaged. Maybe the architecture and design was playing tricks on me.  Maybe they have a dress code. Anyway, it was quite a contrast to the mornings I’ve spent hiking where the older citizens look pretty tropical.

I won’t go on much more because I’m no coffee expert. However, the coffee tasted like coffee and the bread tasted like bread. Actually, the croissant was the best I’ve had outside France. The staff seemed very kind and professional, not to mention busy. If you do choose to visit this place, try to go on a quiet day because various coach tours come and go, so it’s pretty busy. I hope the pictures capture what is a very special place.

Further Information:

https://www.terarosa.com/

Gangwon-do, Gangneung, Gujeong-myeon, 7 Hyeoncheon-gil

강원도 강릉시 구정면 7 Hyeoncheon-gil

 

Have you heard of Jumunjin? No, neither had I until I went there. I’m always slightly wary of giving away information on less obvious places, but as the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang approaches it’s definitely worth knowing about.

Juminjin is a small beach suburb of the bigger city called Gangneung on Korea’s East Coast. Gangneung is famous for beaches and coffee and is also the venue for the indoor winter sports for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. You can reach Jumunjin  in about 20 mins from down town Gangneung and it’s only a short hop through the mountains to the outdoor alpine events in Pyeongchang County.

The town of Jumunjin is a simple fishing place with a great backdrop of the Seorak mountains. If you are familiar with the East Coast of Korea it’s like a mini Sokcho, which is no bad thing; Sokcho is one of my favourites! The best thing about Jumunjin is that it’s compact which means you can see  interesting places within a 10 minute walk of your hotel. There is the usual mixture of Korean style motels and some bigger resort type places near the beach. However, if you are an international traveller with international standards the best bet seems to be a recently renovated property ‘The Winners Hotel’. This place is set back from the seafront but it’s got a view over the single story fish places in front. it has easy access to the restaurants, coffee shops and some of the places offering boat tours. The hotel feels brand new and it has been finished in a boutique kind of way with tasteful furniture and pieces of contemporary art. Aside from the fixtures and fittings the absolute best thing about staying here is the view over the sea. It’s well worth waking up early to take in the sunrise on a clear day. The balconies are pretty large so you can sit out and enjoy a coffee whilst watching the squid boats come in.

 

Walk along the front if it’s not too windy, but if the wind does come in you can retreat back to the main fish market – parallel to the port area. I’m always happy to look around fish markets because where there is a fish market there are inevitably great restaurants. The main draw of Juminjin is the quality of crabs, there are endless tanks with the imperial crabs grappling over the sides. Having tried the crabs on previous visits to the East Coast I opted for something more economical, and surprisingly, something I hadn’t tried before – Mussels with Rice or ‘Honghapbap’. Not only was this meal amazing, the side dishes were plentiful and pretty tasty. I was astounded that the set menu I ordered also had a full mackerel as well.

 

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The photographs below show the restaurant which is just next to the fish market. You cannot miss the fish market because there is a giant whale guarding the entrance.

Despite waking up with the after effects of soju, the early morning wind freshened me up.  A big surprise for me in this small place was that above the fish market there is a quirky coffee theme park. This includes something for everyone. I actually just wanted to get a coffee but the brunches are really good, and if that wasn’t enough I even want through the trick eye gallery. These are getting commonplace in Korea but they are still fun and they bequeath you a load of novelty photos which lighten the mood for the serious travellers like myself! My favourite was playing pool inside a Van Gogh masterpiece – Dr Gache was looking on to make sure I wasn’t cheating. The coffee was high quality as they have their own roasting machine which you can see up close.

If you are considering getting away from the hoards of tourists either for winter sports or summer beaches then this little place comes recommended. I would also think about stopping here on an East Coast scenic tour. Gangneung is not a large city but it’s quite spread out, with this in mind it was very convenient to have everything on the doorstep of the hotel.

Further information:

Getting to Gangneung and Jumunjin:

At the time of writing the high-speed train has not yet been completed. It is possible by train but it takes a long time and you would have to change in Wonju.

By bus: The easiest terminal is Dong Seoul which has services to both Gangneung and Juminjin. It takes about 2h50 and costs W15,000 to Gangneung

Winners Hotel – Google Maps

The Hotel has recently been converted so it may still be listed as a motel. It’s walkable from the small intercity bus terminal. Head for the seafront and fish market area, the entrance is through a small opposite the boat tours.

Visit Korea Website – Jumunjin Beach

Gangneung Tourism (English Language)

 

I live in Jangandong. Here are some pictures.

 

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Dakgalbi is often a foreigner favourite in Korea. It’s not so much a type of food but rather a ‘food event’. There are often several stages as shown in the photos, and many modern places also throw in whatever extras are on the menu. One of the best extras is probably cheese because you watch it melt before your eyes and you might get to witness a kind of mini parting of the Red Sea – but with cheese instead of saltwater, also  chicken instead of a population of Jews fleeing the persecution of that Pharaoh in Ancient Egypt. As analogies go, that last one might be one of the worst, but I don’t care because I’m biblical.

 So, what the hell is it?  I would classify it as spicy stirred-fried chicken  where the ingredients are stirred fried in a large pan placed in the center of the table. Like many Korean foods it’s great for sharing. The best varieties (included below) contain tender chicken pieces in a spicy marinade, but the real seller for me is the texture. After frying the chicken they add  cabbage and some other vegetables:sesame leaves, leeks, sweet potatoes. They also add  rice cakes in case you need some carbs. After the various stages you are left with an excellent balance of sweet, spicy chicken with crunchy vegetables.

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The base of the sauce is gochujang – which is a Korean chili paste. Most places will serve about three levels of spice. If it’s too spicy for the foreigner you can balance it out a bit with your ‘ssam’ wrap which consists of lettuce and a few other veggies. If you want it spicy you can add some more chili or garlic in your lettuce wrap.

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Every place I have been for this meal has a server or chef who makes it round the tables to stir fry it for about 10 minutes. I think the key point is probably the crunchiness of the cabbage. If this gets soggy you’ve lost it! My favourite part of the ending when they may offer you some stir fried rice to soak up the remaining sauce. This sometimes comes with some lava or kim and gets smashed around the pan. It’s pretty heavy on the carbs so go to Dakgalbi place when you’re really hungry.

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The pictures comprise three of my Dakgalbi highlights. One of theme is in my neighbourghood – Jangan Dakgalbi. One is in Gangnam –  Jangin Dakgalbi. Finally, the outdoor pictures are from the home of Dakgalbi – Chuncheon.

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https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jangin-Dakgalbi/1694323930819687 – I visited Jangin in Gangnam

http://blog.naver.com/lovelyssing/220931626086 – Pictures and map for Jangan Dakgalbi (Korean Blog)

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_2_1.jsp?cid=1373574  – Chuncheon Dakgalbi festival. If you are at a different time of year it’s still worth a visit.

 

Danggogae Station (Seoul Subway Line 4) Exit 1 or 4
Suraksan Station (Seoul Subway Line 7) Exit 1-3
Uijeongbu Station (Seoul Subway Line 1) Exit 1
Located 10 min. from exit

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Dongpirang is a painted neighbourhood in Tongyeong. It sits upon a hill and watches over the sea.DSC_0237

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It’s this way.

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If you need a rest…

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No Korean hill is complete without a lookout.

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Her bag is the shape of the village

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From the movie based on the life of Lady Di

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Fmous Korean cartoons.

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Best view.

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The shop of dreams.

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I have visited London many times, and as a UK citizen I feel almost as if I am a resident of the great metropolis. Even though I feel disenfranchised with previously strong institutions, I still claim a stake in the capital which I wouldn’t in other cities of the UK. In this greyish vacuum between being a tourist and local, I often feel a deep sadness and nostalgia when I visit places which have changed in directions which I feel a little queezy about.

Without doubt, my favourite location in London is the area between Liverpool Street and Brick Lane – where Whitechapel meets Shoreditch. Every time I have visited London I have made an attempt to get there. It’s a well worn route so I will try to describe to describe it with various layers of time piled on top of each other. As I try to imagine it I realise that it’s not a journey thought the actual locality but more of a journey through my own memories of the place.

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I leave the station and walk down through the large banks of the City of London. The City of London Police station is where I once spent some time, a very brief time. I was once interrupted during an outdoor McDonald’s breakfast by two very polite policemen who wanted me to take part in an identity parade. They spoke in that dusty old man London accent that you get in original Sherlock Holmes dramas with Jeremy Brett, the accent used by Johnny Depp in the ripper movie. I obliged and spent some time standing next to various young adults, all of whom had short dark hair and a similar build to myself. Since I was a teenager I have always been followed in shops and generally suspected of wrongdoings, this was the final proof. The lawyer decided that we were not right so I never actually got to have the witnesses inspect me. There was an element of anxiety despite the Police telling us that it’s impossible for any of the identity parade to be incorrectly sent down. I think I may have watched too many movies to fully believe them. Anyway, I got paid so I was happy

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Outside the police station I head down the Bishopsgate  then make a right turn into the wide street running down to Spitalfield’s Market. I love the houses in this part of London, they are very London in colour and seem to watch disapprovingly as their friends and neighbours  get turned into start-up tech firms and overpriced bistros. I think most of the houses and buildings were used as storehouses and shop-fronts when the East India Company was still going. At leasts some of the pubs seem to have remained intact and kept their character – like the 10 Bells on the corner. I walk through the line of franchises into the vast market, a lady with a local accent mistakes me for a foreign tourist because I don’t shave and I wear sunglasses ” I fought you woz Spanish or samfink!” I smile and move on to another stall. The cafes get hipper and seem expensive so I plot my escape. Opposite the  large right angle of original terraces I am  interrupted by the eccentricity of Hawkmoor’s church on the corner. This spawns a cross London quest in which I try to visit as many Hawksmoor churches as possible. The quest is made all the more interesting by running out of battery and forgetting my A to Z map of London.

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Christchurch looks on silently as if unaffected by the earthly pursuits of buying vintage furniture and comparing new cocktails. For Christchurch guards one of the points of the underworld pentagram which connects the other Hawksmoor Churches. The streets near Fournier Street remind us of the Huguenots and of course Jack the Ripper. This part of London has always been the first port of call for many immigrant communities. In some cases they only remain in the proper nouns of streets and surnames, in others they can still be smelt. As I approach Brick Lane I enjoy the smell of the Bangladeshi spices in the numerous curry houses. I’m sure they are good but I have no intention of eating there. A brief sensation of Northern pride prevents me from analysis, Manchester’s Curry Mile must be much better. Brick Lane is colourful and bewildering, the novelty of Bengali Street names on such typically domestic streets quickly wears off as I spot Rough Trade East. The ghost of John Peel tells me to go in and find a gem but I settle for a catalogue instead. I really really want to buy a T Shirt but I have never been good at being a fan of anything. Moderation stops my impulse buys and hunger takes over.

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I have a OCD capacity to know everything about food. One of those foods is the humble bagel – invented in Poland for pregnant women. The bajgiel was eaten by the Yiddish speaking Jewish community in Krakow. Many of the Jewish diaspora emigrated to this part of London too. One of my many food quests led me to search out two beigel shops towards the end of Brick Lane. After getting past the post industrial chic of the warehouses I finally make it. It seemed like a shorter journey in my head but it doesn’t matter because salt beef makes everything vanish. If mindfulness is living in the moment and forgetting all other thoughts then I may have just experienced it. The lady put huge quantities of salt beef on the בײגל and then doused it in strong English mustard. I stand on a corner eating my beygl and my journey stops.
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I’m not sure why people choose to eat cereal for double the price but that’s the price of being hip these days. I backtrack to the cereal killer cafe because it wasn’t there when I last walked past. I noticed the cereal fetish with many North Americans in Korea. Someone tried to explain it to me once but I didn’t understand. I believe it may be mixture of nostalgia and brand loyalty. I appreciated the concept and quirkiness of the imported cereal, and I do admire the willingness to follow crazy ideas. However, I think I fall into the category of feeling slightly ashamed that people would spend a fiver on a bowl of cereal when you could buy a full box and a pint of milk round the corner. My breakfast habits have changed beyond recognition since wolfing down crunchy-nut cornflakes as a kid. These days I only eat oatmeal or refrain from cereal all together. If you think it’s difficult to quit eating cereal, I assure you it’s not – just read the ingredients. Most of what you find in boxes of cereal is pseudo food and by the way, what does fortified actually mean? I’ve never found a castle in my cereal.

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My hunger is busted now so I try to find a coffee. If all coffee is a little overpriced and if most cafes look and feel the same then why not go for something different? This is why I choose to support another hipster, and if you wanted proof then he has the beard to prove it. I get a coffee from a converted black cab. Admiration and anti-hipster reflexes conflict again in my conscience. The solid authenticity of this neighbourhood really does clash with some of the modern elements. If anything, Shoreditch and its environs echo what is going on the real world day to day. There is no authentically industrialised inner city any more. There are no jobs for life, no job security. The service sector has taken over. You don’t need to make anything or be good at anything. You just need a new concept and hope people are dumb enough to buy into it. I leave my favourite neighbourhood with mixed feelings and as if to raise more questions Russell Brand walks past me whilst nattering into his mobile. Is he an authentic East End boy done good, looking out for social justice? Or, is he just another hipster?

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Here is Charles Bridge:

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Once you’ve seen one Joseon dynasty tomb, you’ve seen them all. That’s something I’ve never said, at least not without being sarcastic. For those who have been in Korea for an extended period I could understand that some historical monuments start to look very similar to each other. If you are in this phase of diminishing returns when it comes to visiting ‘old stuff’, then I sincerely recommend a visit to the royal tombs of Taereung Gangneung over on the north east side of Seoul.

Map

 

The two locations are a tomb complex in Nowon-gu. Taereung Royal Tomb (태릉) houses the burial mound of Queen Munjeong who was the second queen of King Jungjong, the 11th King of the Joseon Dynasty. Nearby Gangneung (강릉) is the final resting place of  Munjeoang’s son King Myeongjong, the 13th King of Joseon Dynasty, and his wife Queen Insunwanghu.  As mentioned earlier, once you are familiar with the burial sites of the Joseon Dynasty history can start slipping into carefully cultivated UNESCO heritage sites. The orderly layouts and well designed information placard can detract from the interesting and often extremely turbulent history which lies beneath.

Taereung Shrine Entrance

Beneath the grassy knoll of Taereung lies one of the more interesting figures of Korean dynastic history and a great candidate to be patron saint of pushy mums – Queen Munjeong. Her son Myeongjong was too young to rule by himself until 1565 so Queen Munjeong ated as a regent. Despite her many depictions as a power crazy Lady Macbeth type figure, there are also accounts of her being a more than competent administrator. She even gave out land to common people that had been formerly owned by the nobility. Although this practice is rarely for altruistic reasons; it is usually more related to stripping the yangban (upper classes) of land for political reasons. An ominous sign which appears in most dynasties the world over, was the fact that she continued to rule even after her son reached the age of majority. It was only after her death that her son took over power, which seems to me a black and white indication of their relationship.If, like me, you would like to know more about this narrative then you could watch the historical drama  Mandate of Heaven 2013. It’s on a list which I am working my way through – I’m about 1400 years behind at the moment! Another interesting fact about Munjeong was that she was one of the most influential supporters of Buddhism. During the early years of Joseon Neo Confucism replaced Buddhism as the de facto state ideology. The Queen lifted the official ban on Buddhist worship and instigated a resurgence of Buddhism.The next chapter of Korean history starts after Munjeong’s death. However, I have not visited the other tomb complex yet so I will reserve the research for my next visit.

The location of the tomb is in a wonderful location, owing to the practice of geomancy. Like most tombs and royal palaces in Korea the location is chosen with freshwater flowing near the front area and mountains to the rear. In the case of Taereung you can actually follow a small tributary from the Jungang Stream (itself a tributary of the Han). There is a great cycle path all the way up the Jungang Cheon and heading north you can take a right before Taerung Subway station and wind your way up the stream which follows the Bukbu Expressway. It’s a great bike ride in summer because it’s mostly in the shade. The advantage of going by bike is the fact that you miss nearly all the main traffic. I came off the stream when it splits and found myself next to the huge Military academy – the museum is opposite.

The museum is actually the main reason why I would recommend this place. It gives a very detailed description of how tombs are used and made. That sounds extraordinarily dull, but believe me, the graphics and displays kept me in the museum for much longer than I expected. I wish I had seen the museum a few years ago because it would have helped me understand exactly why the paths are laid out as they are and also the construction of the burial mound.

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The museum costs 1000 won for adults and is open Summer season 09:00-18:30 / Winter season 09:00-17:30

[Subway + Bus]
Seokgye station (Seoul Subway Line 1 and 6), Exit 6.
– Take bus 1155 , 1156 or 73
– Get off at Taereung Gangneung (10 min interval / 15 min ride).

Hwarangdae station (Seoul Subway Line 6), Exit 1.
–  Take bus 202 , 1155, 1156, 73 or 82.
–  Get aff at Taereung Gangneung (5 min interval / 5 min ride).

Taereung station (Seoul Subway Line 6 and 7), Exit 7.
– Take bus 202, 1155 , 1156, 73 or 82.
– Get off at Taereung Gangneung (10 min interval / 10 min ride).

on…Bologna

Posted: 03/10/2015 in Uncategorized

Here is Bologna:

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Taken in Osaka and Kyoto (contributions from Rosie Whitehead)

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I have researched more information about the Sosu Seowon than any other post I have written (or not written). My reasons are not really from any deep desire to uncover the mysteries of Confucianism, nor are they based on extra enthusiasm for this subject. The reason I have read so much is partly because I don’t understand it, but mostly because of a constantly nagging suspicion about Korea, if I was in any way scientific I would even call it a theory. I don’t want to use inverted commas for theory, so I will call it my idea.

Entrance to the Shrine

My idea is that despite Korea’s futuristic aesthetics, fast internet connections, huge shiny skyscrapers and an entire generation plugged into their smart phones, I believe that you can find something timeless underneath. The neon flashing modernity that lights up the huge construction projects of modern Korea easily distracts you from several truths. These truths, rules of behaviour, and manifestations of culture reach back deep into history, a history which goes back way beyond most nation states of the early 21st Century. It’s true, many civilizations stretch back even further than Korea, many have never been conquered, colonized or generally abused by the other cultures jostling around it. However, I believe that Korea has managed to preserve many of its “intangible cultural assets” through persistence, resistance and centuries of isolation. The longer I stay in Korea the more echoes of neolithic life I find, perhaps neolithic is an exaggeration but there are many historical precedents to be found which account for the modern behaviour we see today. One aspect in which I have found a constant thread is the dedication to study.

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One of the most notable features of Korea is the dedication to studying and the breadth of the various spheres of education. Korea has the highest tertiary gross enrollment ratio of any country in the world (UNESCO 2010). There is a strong deference to teachers or leader figures whether it be the hastily prepared power point presentation for the boss, or the middle school students hunched over their books in after school academies. The word Seonsaengnim is used for people of higher status but roughly translates as Master. You might argue that the deference is not being subject to the person of higher status but rather the undeniable truth that education is the most powerful tool to get ahead in this most competitive of countries. This deeply entrenched philosophy of working hard and studying harder is not some modern concept, it’s not playing catch up with the West because of the hard times in the first half of the last Century. The philosophy, or even religion, of hard work and diligent studying is something you can see throughout the history of Korea, especially during the last dynasty – the Joseon Dynasty.

New Cherry Blossom

Buddhism found a natural home in Korea, especially during the Shilla Dynasty. The various tribes and clans of the peninsula always found a neat way to co-opt their local shamanistic beliefs into their branch of Buddhism. I have even seen discrete shrines to mountain gods tucked behind some temples. Despite the Buddhist influence, by the time the Joseon dynasty kicked off they were getting tired of the old ways. Buddhism was associated with the debauchery and excess of the elite, the elite who were often propped up by the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty in China. In many cases the Kings had Mongol wives and many of the rulers were part Mongol or at least put in place by the Mongols. The Joseon Dynasty started to shed the centuries of superstition and metaphysics of Buddhism and to a lesser extent Taoism. What came in its place was a Korean version of Neo-Confucianism. One of the great advantages of the previous Goryeo Dynasty was the access officials had to Chinese culture and in particular literature. These ideas filtered into Korea through the various scholars (still venerated to this day) and became the corner-stone of the new Joseon Dynasty. Buddhism and the temples of Buddhism were increasingly marginalised – which is why if you visit Korea you will find many temples way out of the cities and perched halfway up high mountains. Many of the original temples were converted into use as private educational institutions – seowons.

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When I first read about seowons (서원) they reminded me of the endless Hagwons you see in modern Korea. These days most of the school students study maths, science, and of course English in these private academies. In the past they would have studied the Chinese classics which were essential to pass the state exams to enter government service. The modern equivalent is perhaps the dreaded entrance exam which permits entry into the exclusive Universities – once you have a degree from the better Universities you are more or less guaranteed a position in one of Korea’s top firms. The name of a top University is seen as being more important than experience, potential or personality. There are many more parallels between modern Korea and the original use of seowons, but the underlying theme is that to get on in a Neo-Confucian society you need to study. Social mobility came and went with various monarchs but rich or poor you would have to study to get anywhere near the top. The seowons served this purpose, and the Sosu Seowon was the first.

The Scholars

This private Neo-Confucian academy was founded by the magistrate of Punggi County Ju Sebung (주세붕/周世鵬 1495–1554), during the reignof King Jungjong. It’s located near Suksusa Temple, in Sunheung-myeon, about 30 minutes from Yeongju. Aside from being the first of its kind, it is also unique for many other reasons. It was the only seowon that survived from the Seowon Abolishment  Act in 1871. Ju Se-bung was criticized for founding a school because of other more pressing matters of the time – especially famine and drought.  Being a scholar himself he was able to use reason and wisdom to defend his actions

“Education is the cardinal virtue of man, and ought to be promoted above all else.”

Other seowons enjoyed a fruitful period but Sosu Seowon was the first thus it became one of the richest. Sosu Seowon also enjoyed more attention because it enshrined An Hyang (1243 -1306). An Hyang is a name you see many times in the history books; he was a Confucian scholar who brought Neo-Confucianism to Korea from China in the 13th century.The academy gained even more prestige when Toegye  (another big name in the list or Confucian greats) became magistrate of the county. He asked King Myeongjong to grant the academy a royal charter and the King responded with a hand signed “Sosu Seowon”, and a supply of books. Many seowons and temples before them had a mixed relationship with the Monarchy, similar to some of the more powerful monastic orders in Europe. In this case the annals of the king specify that the local magistrate cannot interfere in the affairs of the academy, nor disturb the Confucian scholars. Sosu Seowon as an institution and as a physical place, was free from interference from the monarchy. Its location, even in our times, underlines this fact.

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The institute is spread over the hills and the various complexes would have accommodated about 4,000 scholars. There is also a shrine for  An Hyang, An Bo, An Chuk and Ju Se-bung, where a memorial services take place on the first day of the third and ninth months of the lunar calendar every year. The study facilities have been placed in the east and the shrine placed in the west. Outside the entrance to  Sosu Seowon is the Okgyesu stream of the Nakdong River. This stream comes down from the impressive Mt. Sobaek. Although I made my quest to reach this place I would definitely recommend stopping by on the end of a Sobaek hike.

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I took a very local bus from Yeongju but the easiest and quickest way to get there is by taking a train to Punggi and then taking the bus I mentioned up the valley. At the time of writing the road was being widened so I expect it will be a much easier journey in the future. The train i from Cheongyangni  (Seoul’s eastern terminus) is exceptional. You can pass through some mountain scenery and the pleasant town of Danyang on the way. If you plan on sticking around there is an Azalea festival and some other Temples scattered around Mt. Sobaek.

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Korail Timetable

Punggi Korail Timetable

You can take bus number 27 from Punggi Station – check it’s not going to Yeongju. For the bus times coming back check in the tourist office at the Sosu Carpark (their timetable is different from the one at the bus stop.

Extra links:

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264147

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SH/SH_EN_7_2.jsp?cid=1820847

Here are some places which are really really calm.

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Palsaik Samgyupsal

Palsaik Samgyeopsal serves pork belly meat (samgyupsal)

They are seasoned or perhaps marinated with eight (pal) special sauces.

All the sauces have different colours (saik)

 eight + colour + porkbelly = Palsaik Samgyupsal

 

Palsaik Signage

 

 

The flavours are amazing and the novelty fun is the constant bickering over which is the best flavour: ginger, wine, ginseng, pine leaves, herbs, curry, soybean paste, and chilli pepper paste or gochujang (as it’s known in Korea). My personal favourite is the pine leaves, but I enjoyed all the other flavours too. Each sauce has its own nutritional benefits, however, I’m not sure of eating one of the fattier parts of a pig counts as well-being food. I read some research not long ago about pork fat producing some kind of chemicals in the brain to make you feel good – like pineapple and chilli. Every time I eat samgyupsal I feel great, mentally. I would recommend this place as a great introduction to samgyupsal, my only reservation is that it is perhaps too good. This may lead to the typical street corner BBQ places being pretty run of the mill. If you are a seasoned veteran when it comes to samgyupsal, I still think this place would provide something of a welcome surprise. As you can see from the map there hare various branches in other global locations. This is one of the flagfliers for the wave of Korean food which is set to sweep across the early 21st century – along with Bibigo’s bibimbap and Kimchi. If you have a chance to visit I strongly recommend you take the opportunity. It does smell of clever marketing and contrived advertising copy, but the flavours are real and the atmosphere is authentic.

 

 

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There are various options available, but if it’s your first visit then you should definitely get the whole lot. The aesthetics alone make this the best option because they come in their own small bowls on a long wooden serving tray. The rest is as you would expect from any BBQ place, just throw it on and cut it up with the scissors once it’s done. Due to the often messy nature of fat spitting and sauces dripping you have the option of wearing an apron. This is a feature of many dalkgalbi restaurants in Korea, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a samgyupsal place.

 

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There are a few branches around Seoul (and the World) but I visited the branch off the main shopping area in Sincheon. Come out of Exit three and walk up the street to Paris Baguette, turn right immediately before Paris Baguette then follow the road which bears left for about 75m. It’s on your left as you walk up the street. If you get lost type this into a naver map: 팔색삼겹살

Sinchon Branch Map

 

 

 

Inari Entrance

If you are in Kyoto for more than a couple of days, you should find some time to get to Fushimi Inari-taisha. There is a temple complex near the station, but as you wind your way up one of the mountain park paths you can see an amazing Shinto Shrine – the head shrine of Inari. The shrine, or shrines, which span about 4 kilometers, are an eye catching introduction to Shintoism. I found the whole area quite confusing and I have been trying to make sense of it ever since. What struck me the most was how current and relevant to contemporary life the whole place seems to be. This is possibly due to the importance of the Inari.

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The Kami

Inari is the Japanese kami (spirit) of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and business in general. This spirit seems to relate to a general sense of prosperity in various fields. In the past I imagine the rice harvest was the most important reason to visit the shrine, but these days many modern businesses also place great importance on this magical fox spirit. Inari may have been worshipped since the founding of this shrine at the mountain of the same name. Some scholars believe that worship started in the late 5th century, but most agree that it began in the early eighth century. It’s such an important kami that more than one-third of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari.

Inari Main Temple

I was confused because I am used to the single shrine structures of Catholicism. In some cases I have also found the Stations of the Cross ascending sanctuary hills or several different chapels devoted to different saints in a cathedral. The Inari area contains numerous structures from the main shrine structure, main gate, tower gate –  located at the foot of the mountain, through to the more spiritual altars towards the top. I use the word spiritual because there are fewer people at the top and there is a peaceful lake. As people often remind me ‘life is a journey; not a destination’. This statement is never truer than at Inari shrine. The most impressive aspect of the visit is the fact that the top of the mountain is only reachable by a path lined with thousands of torii. The torii are the brightly painted arches which are planted next to each other like a bamboo forest. The reason there are so many here relates to the function of the kami – business. This means that those who have been successful in the business world often attribute their success to the shrine, they subsequently donate the torii archways to the shrine.

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The walk to the top is a beautiful experience once the crowds thin out. The sunlight often glimmers through the numerous gaps of the arches and illumintes the shady pathway. The forested mountain on either side of the pathway provides peaceful noises to contemplate the new harvest or business venture. The more I read about it the more it seemed like some kind of inpenetrable animistic place, almost like the native American totems you might find on the pacific coast. However, as is always the case, the longer you contemplate something the more familiar it becomes. If a Catholic wanted to pray for a successful harvest or business venture, or in fact any number of different concerns, thay could turn to the wide array of saints on offer.

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After living in Korea for a few years I have never seen anything quite like the Inari shrine, although beneath the Buddhism of Korean mountain temples, there always seems to be some kind of mountain god. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the religious or animistic rituals of the Far East but it will be great fun trying.

Inari Lake

Shrine Shops

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To get to this shrine I recommend taking the train from Kyoto station. There are two stations at Fushimi: JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station) and there is also Fushimi Inari Station on  the Keihan main line.

As you can see from the map, Inari station is very close to the entrance of the main temple.

Inari Map

I would plan this trip carefully because there are a bewildering number of passes and lines. 

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is the new landmark building in a landmark area of Seoul. It can get confusing around here, so let me be specific.

동 = east대 = big문 = gate

Dongdaemun is literally a large gate on the eastern part of what once was the Seoul wall. This wall is intact (if recreated) in many places. Several of these gates necklace the former walls of Seoul and provide useful compass points for navigating the city.

Dongdaemun-gu is the district which takes its name from this famous gate; it’s a bit further east from the gate. It’s also my home.

Dongdaemun History & Culture Park is the area which used to house a famous baseball and football stadium. It has been demolished and rebuilt to include museums and ramparts from the wall. This backs on to the markets and busy fashion trade centres. It is also the name for the underground station. Finally we get to the edifice I would like to write about – Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It is quite a mouthful so has been shortened to ddp. I have noticed that many Seoul residents are still unfamiliar with this acronym, but from here on I will refer to it as ddp.

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ddp has been taking shape during the years I have been in Korea. It used to be a building site but as it neared completion I used to ascend the building opposite to view it from above, luckily there is an elevator on the outside of the building which goes up about 17 floors. Finally after 5 years it has been officially inaugurated and I have been able to see it from every other angle, including from the inside. It was designed by Iraqi British architect Zaha Hadid, and it’s a multifunctional mixture of post modern play things. Under the shiny aluminium panels you can find a fashion design information center with seminar rooms and a lecture hall. There is a convention hall, exhibition halls, museum and my personal favourite – a kind of design market.

Zaha Hadid 360 degrees Opening Event

Zaha Hadid 360 degrees Opening Event

 

The fun mixed use nature of the building adds to the playfulness and post industrial vibe that you can find here. Each part of the building morphs into the next and getting from one area to the next is so much fun that you almost don’t care what’s going on in the exhibition spaces. It’s got a minimal feel to it, especially with all the white. However, it differs from any modernist structure because it is completely freeform. There seems to be nothing holding anything up. Moving around the building makes no sense at all, but that’s one of the reasons I like it so much, you never quite know what’s going to happen round the next corner.

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The highlight of the interior has to be the staircase which coils round in a triangular direction. There seem to be no straight lines and at one point you can look across to a window and realise that the floor is uphill, the same floor you walked on before without noticing the gradient. I think a lot of organic architecture dates quickly with materials and concrete looking shabby after only a couple of years.  With ddp I think technology has finally caught up with concept and it has allowed Hadid to build something straight from the sketch book with very little compromise.

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From above, and from certain other angles it looks like a spaceship has docked in the middle of the city. The shape of the spaceship resembles the head of some exotic reptile. These curving forms are all contained within a metallic shell of aluminium panels. The underbelly of the building joins into the cultural plaza where you can find some shops and the subway station. There is a lot of concrete surrounding the building but it manages to keep some kind of harmony with the grassy park and the ramparts of the old buildings which sit in the shadow of the silver spaceship.

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It has been criticized for not fitting in with the surrounding area and for not having a specific purpose. I would admit that it does look strange next to some of the larger retail buildings in that area, but it was a large space to fill and I admire the bravery of going for such a structure. I think over time many of the surrounding buildings will be knocked down, and Seoul has far too many geometric blocks littering the skyline anyway. Whether it will be the new fashion and design hub of Asia only time will tell. For the moment, it has provided the city with something different and something which goes some way to shaping the future urban landscape. I think it is far more successful than the City Hall building for demonstrating how this metropolis sees itself moving into the future. The future here seems to be soft edged, fun and playful. If you visit ddp you will be able to walk on it, in it, through it, round it, under it and over it. Someone told me that you can do those things in a multi story car park, if it is just a large post modern car park then I would be more than happy to park myself there every Saturday afternoon – because I love the place!

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Links and further reading:

http://www.ddp.or.kr/MA010001/getInitPage.do

http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/dongdaemun-design-park-plaza/

http://www.arirang.co.kr/news/News_View.asp?nseq=159617

 

 

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Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good. – Soren Kierkegaard

It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. – Virginia Woolf 


 

I’ve already written one post today so I’m pretty tired. I remember some time ago making a photo essay about being idle. I used the verb ‘making’ because ‘shooting’ would have been incorrect. I didn’t have the idea then decide to go out and take pictures. On the contrary, I had the idea after looking at pictures. This was a great idea and really fits into my theme because I didn’t have to do anything. In fact, as I type I have just realised that I am going to just recycle some old pictures from Facebook and re-post them on here. The reason I want to write about idleness is because I am particularly tired after recently working quite hard. I realise that in my day-to-day life I may have the time to ‘blog’ but I don’t necessarily have the will. I believe this lack of will stems from some part of my brain or soul being spent.

I believe quite passionately in a particular kind of ‘creative idleness’. I use this  term to make a distinction between simple laziness or idleness. When you are tired after working a long day you may want to lie down on the sofa, ottoman, or some other type of comfortable furniture. If your brain is spent, like mine often is, you may resort to watching a conventional soap opera or drama. Let’s take Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale and any other type of soap. People watch them because they are shit. After a hard day’s work these types of soaps act like a kind of anaesthetic to dull our creative impulses. This is the reason I have not written a blog post for so long. Even if I have a good idea it cannot swim to the surface because of extreme apathy. By the way, I don’t watch any of those soaps. I have thought about watching them, but only if they were animated with more cartoonish violence.

I have come to understand the lack of creative idleness on an almost spiritual level whilst living in Korea. Koreans work the longest hours in the OECD yet have the lowest productivity. The lack of holidays and the culture of working ‘hard’ instead of working ‘smart’, means that the highly intelligent workers returning home on the subway only have the cerebral potential to play phone games. Everyday I see the empty gazes of Seoul’s workforce as they stare blankly into whatever trivial game or social media they are looking at. I’m not saying that  salarymen should be composing sonnets or contemplating the Hegelian Dialectic, but simply acknowledging another human or appreciating something outside their smart phone would help. I wish I could show people the infinite ways of passing idle time.

I consider myself very lucky indeed to come from a country where I could save up money then travel for a year, in trying to enjoy idle bliss. Ironically I spent most of this year working, but that ties into the ‘idler’s paradox’ – more of that later. On my journey to various parts of the World, the biggest gift I got was perspective. To see the World objectively and to question common ways of doing things. After seeing that some Samoans only work for 3 months in a year, and that Australians often go for month-long fishing trips, I was intrigued to know why this didn’t really happen much in the fast paced ‘real World’. After returning to the UK after my trip I became obsessed with productivity and the use of time. I had a time-consuming job in the back office of an academic booksellers. I was never much into counting things, so the idea of making reading lists and counting money seemed abhorrent to me. However, what I found was that I really enjoyed finding ways of saving time and saving man hours. Many of the practices I tried to fold into everyday life were not necessarily ‘good practice’, but the combination of various useful time-saving tips really helped cut the amount of time counting money. This extra time could then be used for creative idleness.

This is the paradox which I mentioned earlier. Being extremely well-organized and efficient ultimately leads to the creation of idle time. If your brain is not spent you can use idle time to do more worthwhile things than making money for the ‘man’ or chasing the Yankee dollar. Most of the great ideas in the world have appeared out of context. We are at our creative best when we daydream, when we swap ideas over coffee and draw on napkins. Most conventionally bad ideas come when we are sitting in a ‘study’ or sitting at our desk. Unfortunately we have inherited an industrialized world in which we generally have to conform to set shift patterns and gruelling hours per week measurements. Most people, given the opportunity could easily condense their week down drastically leaving free time to do creative things, or to be with their friends and family. The biggest fears of course are money and public perception. Nobody wants to be seen as a slacker, and money is a drug in the sense that the more we get the more we spend, and the more we spend the more we want. I wonder how much time at work is spent doing almost nothing? Hopefully, as we enter an era of post industrialization work practices will become more flexible and allow us to do things which make us human. There are some new cultural trends which will really make life much better. The ‘mini retirement’ is one of the best. Stopping work to do other things actually makes us more productive and focussed in the long run. Many companies and industries are not set up for this yet, and of course it relies on reasonably well paid jobs where paying the rent isn’t a constant worry.

Now I find my photographs which I hope will illustrate how being idle can ultimately lead to increased happiness, longevity, and a sense of self.

Befriend foreign nationals to see if they have any tips on finding time to be idle. If they don't have any revolutionary ways then you could always help them into an idle lifestyle. Yasu and Kohei come from a land which is known for it's low tolerance for slackers, however as you can see, they have no problems leading an idle life

Befriend foreign nationals to see if they have any tips on finding time to be idle. If they don’t have any revolutionary ways then you could always help them into an idle lifestyle. Yasu and Kohei come from a land which is known for it’s low tolerance for slackers, however as you can see, they have no problems leading an idle life

Make time to make music. The guy on the right got up at 4 am to play his dig at sunrise. The Digeridoo also vibrates your body on a sub atomic level which helps to relax.

Make time to make music. The guy on the right got up at 4 am to play his dig at sunrise. The Digeridoo also vibrates your body on a sub atomic level which helps to relax.

Be sure to take a holiday and don't be bashful about telling others. You may lose some business in the short term but a well rested individual is far more productive in the workplace.

Be sure to take a holiday and don’t be bashful about telling others. You may lose some business in the short term but a well rested individual is far more productive in the workplace.

Be open mided about other cultures and habits which you may have overlooed in your daily regime.

Be open mided about other cultures and habits which you may have overlooked in your daily regime.

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Make and take time to appreciate your surroundings instead of walking in straight lines to your office. Old businessman = hunched , fat and depressed/ Artists = slim, flexible and happy

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Too much to explain so just go here instead –
http://www.slowfood.com/%5B/caption%5D

[caption width="614" id="attachment_2658" align="aligncenter"]no 193 Set aside a place for relaxation.

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Time spent cooking and eating is always time well spent. Generally the longer something takes to cook the better it is to eat.

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A hot tub, sauna and plunge pool rotation is always good for the idler. Saunas are especially good because you have a rare window to do nothing at all. In case you are confused, sauna sweat is good sweat, gym sweat is bad sweat.

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Learn from you ancestors. Life was tough for my Armenian family so they moved to New York to make enough money to do less work.

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Allow time for play, in this case third world pool (less balls more insects)

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Take a hint from your environment

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Getting perspective. I find that a good view of things helps me to realise how trivial most worries are. I used to ascend this hill to escape studying in Barcelona.

Take the time to enjoy simple pleasures. In this case a sunset. I myself like watching people who watch sunsets, I believe calmness is contagious.

Take the time to enjoy simple pleasures. In this case a sunset. I myself like watching people who watch sunsets, I believe calmness is contagious.

You don't always need to sit in a lotus position to meditate.

You don’t always need to sit in a lotus position to meditate.

Avoiding clutter and mess helps the mind and body achieve true idleness.

Avoiding clutter and mess helps the mind and body achieve true idleness.

Be prepared on excursions. Hunting round for food at lunch time infringes on time in the park. Most food groups are represented in this simple pack lunch combo.

Be prepared on excursions. Hunting round for food at lunch time infringes on time in the park. Most food groups are represented in this simple pack lunch combo.

Choice is generally bad for the true idler, imagine how much easier this decision would have been if there were only one shot of liquer.

Choice is generally bad for the true idler, imagine how much easier this decision would have been if there were only one shot of liquer.

Herbs and spices are full of wonder. Look at the ingredients on everything in the supermarket on your next visit, you will soon realise that making things for yourself is more fun and healthier. Spices used to be essential for medicinal purposes and wellbeing but Victorian protestants attached a stigma to them as they probably hampered the 'work ethic'.

Herbs and spices are full of wonder. Look at the ingredients on everything in the supermarket on your next visit, you will soon realise that making things for yourself is more fun and healthier. Spices used to be essential for medicinal purposes and wellbeing but Victorian protestants attached a stigma to them as they probably hampered the ‘work ethic’.

Why work 9 to 5 when you can work whenever you want?

Why work 9 to 5 when you can work whenever you want?

 

Further reading:

http://idler.co.uk/ – This is a great magazine site made by Tom Hodgkinson. If you like the site then there are also some books published on the same theme.

http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/ – Tim Ferris has become famous by trying to do things really quickly and easily. I question some of the content but the overall message is one of working less and enjoying life. There are many interesting ideas in the various books. e.g – only responding to e-mails at certain times each week, deleting all facebook friends and having people ‘follow you’, taking mini retirements.

http://www.ted.com/playlists/60/work_smarter.html

 

 

This is  along overdue post, mainly because the more I read about it, the more I taste it, and the more I try to understand it, the more confused I become. I will try to break it down into smaller sections so as not to confuse myself.

What is it?

Kimchi  is a traditional fermented Korean side dish made from various types of vegetables.  Most of the Kimchi you will find in restaurants in the little dish next to your main meal will be cabbage or radish. You could liken it to the German and east European sauerkraut, which is also pickled cabbage. However, kimchi also comes with a variety of seasonings, the most common being chilli which gives it the notable deep red colour. The mixture of its fermentation and seasoning gives it a characteristic spicy or sour taste. Despite being a side dish, there are many main dishes in which kimchi is used. It is also considered as Korea’s national dish. The English word for kimchi is kimchi. 

What is made from?

According to the Kimchi Field Museum there are 187 varieties which can be made from the following main vegetable ingredients:

Napa cabbage, radish (sliced in various ways), green onion, cucumber, green pepper, sesame leaf, mustard leaf, turnip, gourd, aubergine and so on…The other ingredients used for the fermentation process and flavour are:brine, scallions, spices, ginger, chopped radish, garlic,shrimp sauce, and fish sauce.

 

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Why is it made?

Most civilizations had some processes for fermenting food. The prime reason being for times of shortage. This is especially true in the Korean peninsula which has a particularly harsh winter. The preservation of vegetables in earthenware pots allowed people to consume vegetables for 3 to 4 months over winter. Korea has four distinct seasons and the cultivation of vegetables is too difficult after November. Despite this fact, kimchi has evolved to be eaten at different times of the year. Many different types of kimchi are suited to the four seasons. Before the age of refrigeration kimchi was stored in the giant earthenware pots which you can still see to this day. The same type of pots are also used to make various other types of fermented pastes. Modern Korea has now has kimchi fridges which can separate the rather pungent odours from the rest of the items in your fridge.

When was it first made?

To trace the history of kimchi would involve tracing the history of cabbage. Cabbages travelled from the Indian subcontinent via the south of China to what is now Korea, this happened around 4000 years ago. It’s difficult to say whether kimchi was made at this time, but it is likely that the first agricultural societies were at least storing vegetables. The first mention in written accounts is by a famous writer called Yi, Kyu-bo(1164 – 1241 AD).  In  the History of the Koryeo Dynasty one of his verses includes the line: ‘the leaves of white radish dipped in paste are good to eat during three months in Summer and the salted ones are endurable during Winter.’ Yi, Kyu-bo’s obvious problem was that the Spanish had not yet colonized the Americas. It wasn’t until after the Japanese invasion (1592–1598) that kimchi began to take on its distinctive red colour and spicy taste. Although before this time there may have been other spices added to the dish.

 

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How is it made?

The damaged outer leaves are removed from the cabbages, they are then are cut in half and left to soak overnight in salt.

After soaking they are rinsed and drained.

Garlic and ginger are minced and the red pepper powder is mixed with the other seasoning.

The various vegetables are sliced.

The seasoning mix is stuffed between the layers of cabbage.

The cabbage is then securely wrapped with the outermost leaf and left to ferment.

KimchiStages

Is it healthy?

A quick look at the list of ingredients used for kimchi will no doubt assure you of the health benefits. A serving of kimchi can provide Vitamin C, carotene, vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron. It is usually considered one of the World’s superfoods, especially after outbreaks of avian flu and Sars. After much speculation and research, immunity to both these diseases, and many others, is increased by kimchi consumption. The magic is said to be in the bacteria from the fermentation process. I’m not sure about the overall health benefits but I can testify personally that my last three occasions without kimchi have been difficult. The main benefits I have seen first hand have been a general speeding up of the metabolism and as a source of fibre. After brief periods spend outside of Korea I have struggled with digestion. I don’t even eat kimchi everyday but I think my system now needs it.

Where can I get it?

I have seen it in most Asian supermarkets in the UK, although it is a mass-produced variety. It is also made in China and Japan. The best kimchi is of course from ‘someone’s mum or grandma.’ If you live in Korea there is almost no need to ever buy it because someone you work with will have access to it. Much of the kimchi used in restaurants may be mass-produced in China, but I’m sure any neighbourhood store will be able to get it for you. These days there are many workshops in Korea where you can make your own too.

What do I do with it?

The main use of kimchi is to be eaten with your rice, but this is not the only use! As it is nearly always a side dish you can use it in your ssam wraps with meat, in a big stew like kimchi jjigae, in soup, in a Korean pancake, and my favourite – with fried rice. I have experimented with almost every type of food, especially Western dishes. My personal favourite is a bacon and cheese sandwich with kimchi. You can put the kimchi on a baguette under the grill then melt cheese on top. Another good one is on hot dogs, beef burgers, and inside wraps or burritos. It goes especially well with pork sausages inside lettuce leaves. The only two combinations I cannot get my palette around are kimchi with any type of pasta or pizza, and also with wine. It’s really difficult to appreciate wine after eating any type of kimchi; soju is a much better combination.

KimchijeonFinal note!

Most of the best things in life take a while to enjoy. Most people don’t like their first beer or glass of wine. I never used to like blue cheese. Sushi seems repulsive at first. If you are living in Korea or visiting Korea, I cannot stress enough that you should try to get used to the taste of kimchi. If you do, you will be rewarded with the myriad types and I also believe it will develop your taste by pushing the limits of sourness and spiciness. I have met many young Koreans who don’t enjoy the taste of kimchi, they  prefer instead the bland or sugary tastes of modern fast food. I hope the younger generation and foreigners alike can learn to enjoy one of the World’s greatest foods – kimchi.

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Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 at the start of the Joseon Dynasty. This new dynasty moved the capital to Seoul, the earlier Goryeo Dynasty was based in Kaesong. The palace dominates the northern part of Seoul and is a testament to one of the longest running dynasties in the World – 1392–1897.  The name Gyeongbokgung translates to “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.” Its dominant location in the heart of the capital is no accident, with Bukhansan to the north and the mighty river Han to the South, the location was deemed ‘auspicious’ by the traditional practice of geomancy or Feng Shui.

Gwanghwamun

Gwanghwamun

If you ever doubt the benefits of this practice I recommend taking a closer look at this building; it seems like the modern skyscrapers of Seoul are queueing up to pay homage to this building or rather this complex of buildings. My first encounter with the centre of Seoul was ascending the steps from Gwanghwamun station only to be met by the awesome sight of King Sejong guarding the path to the Palace with the snow-capped Bukhansan in the background. The palace grounds stretch all the way to the Blue House – the home of South Korea’s President. I have been to the palace about five times and I would recommend it as being the number one priority on a Seoul bucket list.

Changing of the Guards

Changing of the Guards

The first structure is Gwanghwamun Gate (mun means gate). This is the main entrance to the palace and it is linked to the major parts of Seoul by the  Sejongno boulevard. As I mentioned earlier, this street is the beating heart of Seoul because it contains the statues of King Sejong and Lee Sun-shin. To get a good idea of this central axis I recommend visiting the Seoul City Museum. They have models and pictures which allow you to appreciate this area in all its glory. Gwanghwamun Gate is also where you will see the changing of the guard. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Japanese  destroyed the gate and built their own government buildings. The gate appears quite modern looking , especially compared to some of the other stone gates in the capital. This is down to the fact that it was rebuilt in 1968 using concrete. As you walk through the gate you get an immediate impression of a large-scale landscaped layout with several important buildings. I will tell you about some of them moving south to north.

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Gangnyeongjeon ( 강녕전) was used as the king’s main residence, I always imagine King Taejo living here after seeing him in the amazing drama ‘Deep Rooted Tree’.  Like most of the palace buildings in Seoul it was destroyed in the Japanese invasion of 1592. It has also suffered fire damage on other occasions. Since then it has been rebuilt to its original design. The only disappointment, especially to any European visitor, is that it doesn’t look particularly old. This is a common problem with many of the monuments in Korea, but at least they are being restored. The building sits on a tall stone foundation, and a stone veranda is in front of the building. You might see similar structures throughout Korea, but few match this one for scale and location.

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The next building moving north is Geunjeongjeon ( 근정전) which is a Throne Hall, or was a Throne Hall because Korea is a Republic these days. The name means ‘diligence helps governance’, a very Confucian name. This type of room will be familiar to anyone who has  seen films like ‘Elizabeth’ or who watches TV shows like ‘Game of Thrones’. This two-tiered stone edifice was where the king formally granted audiences,  greeted foreign ambassadors  and gave royal declarations. I imagine that King Sejong decreed the new alphabet from here. The highlights for me, and anyone with a love of close up photography, were the  sculptures of  animals on the balustrades. There is also a stone-paved courtyard  lined with rank stones or pumgyeseoks( 품계석). These were important for a Confucian society because each stone indicated where the officials were to stand. This strictly ordered ranking system is still very much a part of corperate culture in Korea. People get very uncomfortable until they know their age or rank relative to others.

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The most scenic of all the buildings for me is the Gyeonghoeru (경회루) Pavilion. This was a state banquet hall during the Joseon Dynasty. Its first inception  was  in 1412, but it was burned down in 1592, yes there is a predictable patten with fires in that year! The reason I like it so much is because it is located on an island of an artificial, rectangular lake. The wooden structure  sits on top of  stone pillars, with wooden stairs connecting the second floor to the first floor. The outer perimeters are supported by square pillars but the inner columns are cylindrical. Three stone bridges connect the building to the rest of the palace grounds, the balustrades around the island are decorated with sculptures depicting twelve Zodiac animals. The same twelve animals can also be seen near the folk museum.

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I’m going to miss some of the other buildings and move on to another favourite: Hyangwonjeong ( 향원정) This is a smaller, two-story hexagonal pavilion built on an artificial island of a lake. It was built later than the other buildings and reminds me of a kind of oriental folly, the sort you might find in the park of an English stately home.  The name Hyangwonjeong apparently means “Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance,”. I’m not sure why it was called this but it does feel less city like at this northern end of the grounds. It is perhaps the most photogenic of all the buildings in the palace, I once fell asleep on the grass next to the lake.

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Getting there:

Gyeongbokgung Palace Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 5.

Gwanghwamun Station (Seoul Subway Line 5), Exit 2.

Top tip: There is an all in one ticket which you can use for other palaces. However, if you don’t have much time then perhaps just visit this one.

 

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When people ask me, and they often do, ‘what’s your favourite food?’ I usually make up a quick answer to avoid unnecessary complications. Korean cuisine is infinitely complex and I have several ‘favourite’ foods. What I can say with some degree of certainty is that for my favourite meal or meals there should be several key elements. These elements are instantly Korean and instantly delicious. I sometimes get nervous when there is a table missing these key dishes or side dishes. They are of course: rice, kimchi, ssamjang, and some kind of meat. Other elements make these taste better, but these are the foundations of flavour. My favourite way to eat these foods is in a ssam.

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A ssam is basically a wrap. The wraps can differ, but the most common is just some green lettuce. You can wrap meat and vegetables in seaweed (or lava) and different kinds of leaves. Once you start free-styling you can even use two different kinds of leaves e.g a sesame leaf and a plain lettuce leaf. The most common places to eat ssam are at any typical Korean BBQ place or at a Bossam/Possam(보쌈) restaurant (the clue is in the name). The reason I love ssam so much is that you make them yourself to match your own palette. You can also develop them over time to include other key elements, garlic and beansprouts often find their way into my own ssams. I think ultimately, there is no taste better than one’s own taste. The ssam, like the humble sandwich in Western Cuisine, is completely subjective. My own ssams rely on a good dollop of ssamjang – the suffix jang can be added to foods to imply a kind of condiment or paste. I also like cooked kimchi if possible, especially for samgyeopsal (삼겹살) which is bbq pork belly. Obviously the most important thing is the actual meat. This combination of textures and flavours makes for a perfect meal. You don’t need to eat lots of meat and rice for ssam, in fact they can be very healthy relying on fresh seasonal vegetables and leafy greens.