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Saturday, 29 September 2007

Victoria Dragon Boat Festival: Eye Dotting Ceremony

When I was in Victoria during the end of August, I helped out with some volunteer photography at the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival. These pictures were taken at the Eye Dotting Ceremony, which takes place prior to the start of the festival.

The Victoria Dragon Boat Festival just celebrated its 13th year of existence, and is always highly anticipated by many avid dragon boaters from throughout the Pacific Northwest. This year alone, 90 different teams participated in the festival, an all time high.

To start off the festival, "Taoist priests will "awaken of the dragon" in an ancient rite that precedes every dragon boat festival. To "awaken" the dragon boats, red paint is dabbed on the eyes on each dragon boat’s "blind" figurehead."

These photos were taken with with my Canon XTi/400D/Kiss Digital X along with my uncle's 24-105mm f/4 L:

This cutey is my little cousin, Ella. She was cute enough to make the cover of the Times Colonist and the Saanich News!

I've had some family visiting from back East, hence the delay in posts (due to eating non-stop dim sum, dinners, and drinking bubble tea). This Sunday I'll be visiting Victoria for a week, so updates might be delayed a bit.

Are you a big dragon boat fan? If so, where have you paddled, and for what team?

Thursday, 27 September 2007

47 Korea Blogs Ranked By Blog Juice

There are lots of blogs about South Korea out there. Some are on the light side and some take a more serious stance towards their lives. Some people like to update daily or periodically, while some like to update whenever they have a spare moment. Nevertheless, there are lots of excellent blogs out there that are extremely well written and entertaining. I get lots of emails about where to go for information on Korea, so the following list of the Top 47 Korea blogs, ranked by their "blog juice," will help you out.

Here is a list of 47 Korea-related blogs, ranked according to the Blog Juice Calculator provided by Text Link Ads (sign up to make money selling links on your blog). This calculator determines your "blog juice" by factoring in how many Bloglines subscribers you have, your Alexa rank, Technorati rank, and incoming links to your site. You can see a list of the popular juggernauts out there in the Korean blogosphere, according to their "blog juice". The higher the "juice" number means a more influential blog that can be found through search engines and such.

Blog Juice/Blog Title Bloglines/Alexa/Technorati/Links

4.6 The Marmot's Hole 117 / 448598 / 15536 / 4966
3.9 The Metropolitician 43 / 333590 / 31152 / 502
3.7 Web 2.0 Asia 171 / 860236 / 36657 / 206
3.7 Expat Jane 21 / 1,026,144 / 14,052 / 361 *added*
3.6 My Korean Kitchen 89 / 343,464 / 33,650 / 247
3.5 The Daily Kimchi 28 / 399988 / 33440 / 264
3.1 Seoul Daily Photo 5 / 1191008 / 26017 / 443
3.1 North Korea Zone 211 / 2278802 / 110168 / 67
3.1 One Free Korea 31 / 1273190 / 53381 / 638
3.1 DPRK Studies 44 / 1130286 / 70762 / 706
3.0 Occidentalism 54 / 463354 / 50281 / 231
2.9 ZenKimchi FJ 97 / 914000 / 57795 / 284
2.8 ROK Drop 15 / 765069 / 78706 / 556
2.7 Frog in a Well 204 / 0 / 230014 / 0
2.6 ZenKimchi 97 / 914000 / 85458 / 184
2.6 Everyday Seoul 4 / 9586818 / 33902 / 298
2.4 BigHominid 30 / 6073755 / 78706 / 180
1.9 Lost Nomad 34 / 353945 / 152673 / 0
1.9 eclexys 27 / 3298391 / 183684 / 144
1.7 Stranger in Suwon 14 / 1958929 / 149112 / 54
1.6 About Joel 29 / 926283 / 407558 / 26
1.5 A Geek in Korea 8 / 1813196 / 162428 / 126
1.5 Expatriate Games 18 / 0 / 227027 / 30
1.5 FeetManSeoul 5 / 1745778 / 236176 / 105
1.5 mysoju.com 1 / 9,395 / 0 / 0
1.4 Techno Kimchi 18 / 1901531 / 280190 / 34
1.4 Seoul Life 18 / 7890322 / 434733 / 32
1.4 Max Watson 15 / 785904 / 361701 / 29
1.4 Mary Eats 18 / 4914024 / 267853 / 42
1.4 Jane's Daily Blah 9 / 7427393 / 227027 / 57
1.4 K-popped! 1 / 439,966 / 781,839 / 174
1.3 Seoul Glow 9 / 0 / 196198 / 50
1.3 gdimension 14 / 1026657 / 465937 / 17
1.2 Grand Narrative 5 / 3306345 / 500785 / 35
1.2 Teaching Kimchi 2 / 338519 / 704629 / 20
1.2 I'm A Seoul Man 0 / 3593060 / 79961 / 124
1.2 Korean Pop Wars 26 / 1337647 / 4115969 / 0
1.2 Iceberg Korea 11 / 651256 / 898191 / 0
1.0 Korea Beat 0 / 947323 / 144996 / 126
1.0 Fence Rider 7 / 0 / 586265 / 18
0.9 Chosun Bimbo 3 / 5164269 / 640383 / 11
0.9 Kimchi For Breakfast 2 / 0 / 407558 / 33
0.7 Between Pee & Kimchi 5 / 0 / 2701315 / 0
0.7 Lao-Ocean Girl 9 / 1,990,518 / 0 / 0
0.6 Suddenly Susan 6 / 0 / 0 / 0
0.5 Busan Mike 0 / 0 / 324580 / 37
0.2 Shelley in Korea 0 / 0 / 2,515,283 / 2

Taking this into consideration, this list is in no way a list of "the best" blogs out there, but just a list of popular and interesting blogs that you should be checking out. I apologize if your blog was omitted, as there are hundreds of blogs out there. Please let me know in the comments ones that should be here and I will add it to the list.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Videos From Seoul You've Been Dying to See!

When I was traveling around exploring Seoul, 99% of the time I would always take a camera with me. The 1% I did not take one of my cameras I would always miss out on capturing something neat or interesting! Anyways, the result of always taking my camera with me has resulted in a plethora of excess videos and images that are waiting to be blogged about. It results in a back log of stuff to put up here for y'all to check out.

One of my favorite things to do was to capture videos when the time was right. So here are a few miscellaneous videos for your enjoyment. Let's take a look, shall we?

Video #1: The Art of Placing Prawns on a Hot Plate - this video was taken during our "ohgyeopsal" dinner (the one that you're never going to hear about...maybe someday). I was making a big deal out of nothing and of course it comes back to bite me when some oil splatters onto my face...doh!

Video #2: Car Spinner Turns Your Car Around - this was taken in the parking garage at work. One of the staff was helping us out by driving us to the bus stop on our last day at work. Why waste time with a three-point turn when you can be spinnin'?

Video #3: How to Spy on Hotel Workers - this was taken after stuffing our faces full at the breakfast buffet inside the Best Western Niagara in Omokgyo. As we were heading to the elevator I was curious to check out the kitchen--so I just slowly opened the door. Surprise!

So there you have it...expect another installment next time of miscellaneous videos from Seoul.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Maximizing Your Experience at Cold Stone in Korea

It seems like it was just yesterday that I visited the Jongno area in downtown Seoul, and stumbled upon the first Cold Stone Creamery location in Korea. Cold Stone doesn't have any locations in Canada, so my only other taste of this cold treat was from a previous visit to the USA. Anyways, to our delight we were ecstatic to have come across a Cold Stone location in Seoul.

Let's fast forward eleven months later, as once again we just so happened to be in the Jongno area and made another trip to Cold Stone. During this time, another location had opened up in Mokdong, literally five minutes away. I'm not a huge fan of Cold Stone, as their ice cream is much too sweet for my liking. On top of that, they always skimp on the toppings (reminds me of Red Mango; it's like if they give you more than one teaspoon of topping they'll get the axe or something) when they make your frozen concoction. Today, I'm going to show you how to maximize your experience at Cold Stone in Korea.

This is nothing special, but on this particular visit we had previously stuffed our faces full of samgyeopsal's superior half-brother, "ohgyeopsal" (is that even right? more on this incredible pork dinner later; how many times have I said that but never followed up? haha). All you have to do is tell your ice cream artist that this time around, you're going to get serious and would like some more toppings. No skimping today friends, since you're paying almost 4000-7000w for an order of ice cream (for the freaks out there--go for the waffle cone).

Anyways, this works much better if you can speak Korean, so in order for this to be extra effective, make your Korean friends be the guinea pig by doing your dirty work for your ice cream dreams. So after my Korean friends were able to talk some sense into the worker about my previous ice cream woes, I was surprised to see the crazy amount of berries added to my order:

I guarantee you that without making a comment about the lack of toppings prior to placing your order, you will NEVER see so many toppings on your order!! Test it out and prove me wrong! It ain't gonna happen I tell ya!

That girl in the middle is working her pipes mixing together my ice cream:

...ahhh, the end result! Now this is the way Cold Stone should be...in fact, I thought there were too many berries in my ice cream...LOL:

How can a visit to Cold Stone Creamery be without a Cold Stone jingle in Korean? This is quite funny because there is no tipping in Korea, but there is a tip bucket/jar inside Cold Stone locations. When someone leaves a tip, the staff go postal on all the occupants inside the store and start spitting Cold Stone-inspired rhymes in Korean:

A Cold Stone Creamery mishap caught in action: this employee knocked over a tub of dirty used spoons that landed into the ice cream below! She picked the spoons out and left the ice cream as is...uhhh...yummy!

Looking for the Cold Stone Creamery in Jongno? Look for this giant piano on the ground and you'll have no trouble finding the location. In other words, I only remember this piano as the way to Cold Stone in Jongno...just ask someone where to find the piano!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Mango Prices in Canada vs South Korea

Remember when I posted about The World's Most Expensive Mango? Well, that mango I spotted inside the Lotte Department Store definitely takes the record in my books as the most expensive mango I have ever seen. I love mangoes, but I don't love them that much to shell out $34US for ONE!

So, after arriving back home in Victoria/Vancouver, imagine the shock on my face when I spotted mangoes being sold here but for a fraction of the price. Let's do a refresher first of all. Here, we have the mango from South Korea for approximately $34US:

Back in Vancouver, as I was perusing and taking in all the sights and smells of the produce department at Safeway, I spotted Mexican mangoes on sale for only $0.99 cents!! Hot diggity now that's a deal right there:

But...it gets better. Later that week I was inside the produce market at the Richmond Public Market and what did I see on sale? You guessed it, Mexican mangoes once again. The price this time? Only $0.39 cents each!! That just shows you the disparity in fruit prices when you compare it to other parts of the world, and in this case, South Korea! Imagine if you took a couple case loads of these mangoes purchased at $0.39 cents a piece, then sold them in Korea for $34US each! Man, that's like dealing drugs--but with fruit! Time to start up a black market for fruit in Korea! Who wants to get the ball rolling (except there's a problem--Korea's strict drug laws)?

How much do mangoes cost where you live?

Friday, 21 September 2007

The Drive Back from Tacoma = More Mexican Food

I had previously mentioned that during our trip to Tacoma, WA, all of our meals turned out to be of the Mexican variety. We stopped off at Taco Bell (3 times in 2 days), Chipotle, and our final destination, the Taqueria Los 3 Hermanos located inside the food court at Bellis Fair Mall, in Bellingham.

We got to the mall at 6:10pm and it was still open, however all the shops were in the process of closing. As we made our way up to the counter, one of the amigos working apologized and said they were closed. We explained to him that we had come all the way from Vancouver (a white lie) to experience his delicious tacos! With some whimpering and throwing out the puppy dog eyes the dude gave in and agreed to make us 12 tacos! Hurrah!

These tacos are more towards the authentic style, not the "Taco Bell" stuff as some of you have put it. The taste was very simple, but also very fresh and light. Man, I love cilantro. The best part of this meal was wolfing it down in 2 minutes because the custodial staff had just finished stacking up about 300 chairs in the food court--but were waiting for four more--the ones were occupying! Thankfully, they were very kind and let us eat in peace:

I had my first mandarin-flavored Jarritos soft drink--made in Mexico, baby. It tasted like Fanta Orange:

Here are a couple pictures of our view on the way home. We took the road along the 539 border crossing as it was a lot less busier than the border at the Peace Arch (and easier to cross through too):

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Photo Essay: Why I Love Summer in BC

Now with autumn rolling around the corner, and the weather getting a lot chillier in the evening, I thought I'd reminisce about the summer we had when we first arrived back from Korea. Let me present to you the following photo essay on why I love summers in BC--I hope you can figure it out from the images below!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Dot Com Burgers Gone Wild at Feenie's

So you read about my Dot Com Pho with the guys at Pho Lan in Richmond, right? Well this time around, three days later I ended up reuniting with everyone again at Feenie's (which is located right next door to Lumiere--yes, I was there two days ago) after John asked a bunch of us to go eat $50 burgers. We all agreed--what were we thinking!!

The goal today was to experience the 100% Angus beef burger at Feenie's, which comes with fries or salad for about $16. I've had this burger before and it's darn good--served medium with cheese, mushrooms, and bacon, the Angus beef patty is so juicy and tender. However, we had previously decided at the Dot Com Pho last Saturday to load up on the fixins', such as pan seared foie gras and beef short ribs (which were conveniently hidden underneath the patty), bringing the total of this burger to under $60 after a 17% autograt!

Here's my burger, served with fries which also includes the various dips, such as a tasty mayo/fish sauce, dill mayo, and other fattening flavors to increase the calorie count:

"Iron Chef Rob Feenie has taken over $500 of my hard earned dollars in three days!"

This picture was taken by John's wife Sarah. From the left, you can see John Chow, Stephen Fung, part of Michael Kwan, Leo Chiang (the "Chi-Jew"), Ed Lau, yours truly, and Greg Morgan:

Asians love to take pictures with their cameras!!

Leo Chiang is happy to celebrate his Chi-Jew bar mitzvah at Feenie's with a $60 burger:

Just to show you how big this burger really was, check out this crop of Stephen Fung proudly posing with the burger next to his face. By the way, he's crazy because he opted for POUTINE to go along with his burger. Stephen, are you alive dude?? On top of that, he is one heck of an eater as he consumed his burger in about two minutes. I looked down, then looked up, and the next thing you know he was soaking up the juices on his bare plate with the complimentary bread!

...and here is the aftermath on my plate. The juices just absolutely drenched my hands, causing one big mess. The burger itself was just incredible. It was so juicy and each bite just melted in my mouth--who would've thought foie gras would make such a killer addition to a burger. Chewing was almost optional--to burn the calories I went home and took a power nap. Thanks again for the ride John--maybe I should have walked home instead!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Fine Dining at Lumiere Restaurant in Vancouver

Last night we went out for dinner to celebrate our 8 year anniversary--it seemed like it was just yesterday when we did the same thing at the Skyview 41 restaurant in Mokdong! Anyways, I took Devante out to one of Vancouver's premiere restaurants, Lumiere, which is the brainchild of "Iron Chef" Rob Feenie.

You might remember Rob from his victory over Iron Chef Morimoto on Iron Chef America! From that day on, Rob Feenie made millions of Canadians proud. Voted the Best Restaurant and Best French Restaurant by Vancouver Magazine seven years in a row, we knew were in for a wonderful evening. Be warned though, Lumiere is not your typical restaurant--this place is the epitome of fine dining in Vancouver!

After showing up for our reservation at 6:30pm, we were seated in the dining room side of Lumiere, which consists of set menus, which is different from their tasting bar on the other side of the restaurant. The environment inside was very intimate, with seating for only 50 or so. Frosted windows on the street side of the restaurant provided privacy for patrons. For some unknown reason, even though the restaurant was not full, we were seated adjacent to another couple, only a meter away!

Here are the other empty tables that were to my right; to my left was a couple seated in the corner. What happened was one couple as seated smack dab in the middle of 7 tables along the wall--so either way we would have been forced to be seated next to another couple--but why not place us on the other side of the restaurant? To make matters worse, the couple in the middle LEFT after receiving their menus and eating two bites of their amuse bouche (the prices probably scared them away)!

Upon being seated we were given menus and their extensive wine list. We are not big wine drinkers, so we opted out on wine. We decided to taste their Signature Menu, a 10 course extravaganza that goes by the price of $180 per person--yes, your eyes are not seeing things! Are you ready? Let's take a look at what we had this evening, shall we (how many times have I used this line)? I'm going to let the pictures do the talking (thanks to my digital SLR I was able to take decent low light pictures without flash), along with the description of each course--enjoy!

This was a very creative way of displaying salt and pepper; pretty neat I thought:

First up, our amuse bouche was a small sampling of tomato water, after having our other amuse bouche of some mini cheese pastry puffs. The tomato water was very refreshing:

ahi tuna sashimi - with tofu purée, soy dressing and a cucumber sorbet

white onion velouté -
with king oyster mushrooms and pearl onions

qualicum bay scallops - compressed watermelon & thai basil, vanilla glaze and crab beignet

queen charlotte island halibut - with truffled Chilliwack corn, asparagus and cipolloni onions

fraser valley roasted duck breast - with parsnip purée, beets, brussels sprouts and a madeira sauce

aaa beef tenderloin - with pomme purée, smoked tomato fondue and porcini glaze

le plateau de fromages - with a fruit & nut bread

black mission fig carpaccio - with concord grape sorbet, honeydew pearls and yogurt jelly

blackberry & plum salad - with apricot sabayon and fresh mint ice cream

caramelized white chocolate namelaka - muscavado wafer, peach sorbet, Ras al Hanout poached peaches and white chocolate corn

les mignardises (a tray of small sweets)

It was an incredible evening, certainly one that we will remember. We've dined at other fine dining establishments, but Lumiere definitely has taken the cake as the creme de la creme. Each plate was a work of art and the tastes really drove our tastebuds wild. It's really hard to describe as you had to have been there! Our favorites included the Qualicum Bay scallops and the white onion velouté - both truly incredible dishes. The scallops were cooked perfectly and the white onion velouté tasted so creamy and rich, yet it went down oh so smooth. The beef tenderloin literally melted in my mouth. The courses kept on coming and by the time we had finished our white chocolate namelaka (Devante's favorite), we were overwhelmed by the complimentary les mignardises.

The service at Lumiere was excellent, however we did run into a few hiccups. Devante's cosmopolitan arrived a tad longer than we would have liked, our butter dish had some extremely dangerous chips on two corners; I'm talking slice your finger sharp--take a look at the picture below. We notified our server about it, but he did not bother changing the dish.

Aside from almost being served our white onion velouté without soup spoons on our table (the food runner came but had to turn away after he noticed we did not have soup spoons; I was ready to improvise with my salad fork), the service at Lumiere was exceptional. Everyone was extremely friendly and with the small dining room area, we were well taken care of. Our server even did his homework by congratulating us on our 8 year anniversary when we sat down--well done, lad.

Half way into our dinner service I asked our server, probably the most popular question of all time: "Is Rob in tonight?" His response was that Rob was in earlier but was taking the rest of the night off. With a straight face, I told our server that I went to high school with Rob--which caught him off guard, that is until I told him he had been punk'd and I was lying--haha (not funny at all, but so funny to see his facial reaction realizing he was dealing with a dirty trickster--remember walking through crowds in Seoul?).

Lumiere is viewed by some as one of the leading restaurants in Vancouver and North America. Rob Feenie is pretty serious about his line of work--just take a look at this candid snapshot of their renovated million dollar kitchen (from March 2005). It was unfortunate that Rob was not cooking in the kitchen as his fame has resulted in less time spent in the restaurant:

Three hours later, after many burps and thoughts of loosening my belt buckle, our final bill came to $460 after tax and gratuity (hey, I told you to get ready; these guys spent even more!). I'm sure my parents would be fainting right about now. You are probably thinking that it is crazy to spend this much money on dining out. But hey, if you want to treat your significant other to an unforgettable dining experience, and you have some cash to spend, why not go all out? Your woman deserves the best, don't you think? Sure, there will be people that will talk about starving children in Africa, you're nuts, why would you do that, whine whine whine, etc...but hey, this is my hard earned money and I can spend it however I choose. ;-)

Oh, and by the way I proposed last night so now I'm officially engaged. :) Comment away!

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