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Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Eating Korean Food in Coquitlam

Remember how at times I felt like I was still in South Korea back home? Well today you're going to see us eating our first Korean meal back home--something we decided to do on the weekend! Yes, that's right, we had some Korean food--by choice! ;)

Vancouver is home to a large Chinese minority, with the majority of them congregating in Richmond (I like to call it Ricemond or Hongcouver). Well, there is also a well-sized Korean population that has populated Coquitlam, which is 45 minutes east of Vancouver. Here, as you will soon see we were dazzled by signs in both Korean and English. It was pretty neat being able to read some of the signage!

The intersection of Lougheed Highway and North Road is where all the action is. Running along North Road you can see the Korean-inspired lamp post banners.

Here we have a small shopping village, Korean inspired of course! Let's see if we can decipher the text here...the 3rd banner down says "meg she gen chee ken; hop-uh" which is "Mexican Chicken - HOF"--very interesting (Korean fried chicken is awesome)! What else...below is the norebang! Need glasses? Look no further than Namdaemoon Optical! Want some naengmyeon? Got it! There are also a couple big supermarkets which we didn't get a chance to visit. There is an H-Mart located here for all you fans out there!

Rogers Wireless--in Korean! It's the perfect place to get your "hand-pone!"

Wait a minute...this sounds familiar. Is this the same California Sushi in Seoul??

So we met up with my sister's boyfriend who works in Coquitlam for a quick afternoon snack (of course you knew that food would be part of this post, right?). We went to this restaurant and saw their "Business Hours" on their door. I had to pause for a moment to figure out the hours, because it said they were open from 11AM-12PM on some days! Soo, they're only open for one hour during the week? Now that's what I call flexible hours! This sign reminded me of the store hours sign inside Homever--which also had the hours written down incorrectly. Maybe this is a Korean thing...

We enter the restaurant and we are greeted by the Korean waitress/host. After being seated, I drop an 안녕하세요 bomb on them. They immediately think we are Korean! haha. I tell them that I am Chinese but she continues to speak Korean to me anyways! It's like I was back in Korea. Then she dropped a "handsome" bomb on me (which was the case all the time in Korea--what can I say, haha). Okay, awkward moment, but we move on and check out their menus.

So we are looking at their extensive Korean/Japanese menu. Boy, they sure do have a lot of items here--at outrageous prices compared to Korea! Naengmyeon and LA galbi for $9.95?! Dude, I was eating refillable naengmyeon for 2900 won ($3US) in Seoul! I ordered the naengmyeon, as I wanted to compare the flavors to the noodles in Korea.

...and this is what arrived! Yes, this is not naengmyeon. Shortly after my order the chef comes out (I assumed it was the chef--he had flour all over his face like that commercial where the dad sprinkles flour on his face after making a batch of Rice Krispies squares for his kids) and explains that it's not naengmyeon season. Would I like to try the Japanese equivalent instead? Me: "Uhh....sure." So here we have it...some soba noodles on ice. They were okay, but I was still pretty hungry after this!

Devante ordered some "shun doh boo" or a soft tofu soup in a kimchi broth. It actually tasted really good, but was a bit on the salty side. Of course, when she ordered the jiggae, our waitress immediately responded in broken English, "good choice, very health"...haha...the magical wonders of kimchi baby!

What did my sister and her significant other order? None other than the Korean-Chinese noodle dish, the dish eaten on Black Day, JA JANG MYEON! Noodles with black bean sauce and bits of "fork" (pork). This one came topped off with a fried egg and wasn't too bad.

Hey, every meal in Korea had side dishes. Where the heck are ours?! We see the table beside us get their sides but we did not get ours. So instead of pressing this button below (which you are all familiar with) which sends out a ringing bell tone, I call out a more appropriate "cho-gee-yo!" and wave my hand. haha, I am sure they got a kick out of that.

She arrives and I say that we did not get side dishes. So she leaves and comes back with literally empty side dishes! Then she clued in and quickly ran back with our sides. Her excuse for forgetting them in the first place was because I was "so handsome"...haha...I should try that line sometime.

Check out this video of the restaurant...I should've ordered the "hway-dop-bab" like the table ahead of us--darn it!

Monday, 26 November 2007

Monday Madness: Reader Emails Answered

I had a reader ask me some questions on finding a job in Korea. If you haven't read my post on finding a job teaching in Korea already, click here. Hope these questions help those who are looking for jobs in Korea!! Hope my tips help you out, "J"!

Did you typically work a 35 hour week? Any overtime? Is the
overtime optional?
- We had a 30 hour work week, consisting of 6 teaching hours a day. However at my school we had to show up two hours before for prep time, which was unpaid. OT was optional the first time around, but the second time we had to work it (8:45am-8pm) because registration was high.

How long did your application process take from submission to
placement to arrival?
- It was really quick, we applied in May 2006 and we had everything ready by the time we left at the end of July!

Did you keep your work hours to Mondays-Fridays?
- Monday to Friday

What age group did you teach?
- Ages 9-17...no kindergarten. Most classes lasted a month, and the next month would be the same kids.

I am a "gyopo" - does this decrease my chances of securing
employment as an ESL teacher? I was born and raised in the States and
I can barely speak a lick of Korean!
- At my branch they had lots of "gyopos" so that is not a big problem. I'm Chinese myself so people thought I was Korean. Some "gyopos" didn't speak Korean either!

Was your apartment within walking distance to your school?
- Yes, 10 minutes (7 minutes when it's freezing cold!).

What was your compensation package like? It sounds like different
rates apply to expats depending on experience and I do not have any
prior teaching experience. It would be helpful to know what living
expenses were like.
- a fully furnished officetel (bed, sheets, pillows, tv, dresser, drying rack, table, chairs, kitchen utensils, cups, bowls, mugs, glasses, pots, pans, fridge/freezer, AC...the full deal!) We paid about 150-300US/month in maintenance fees. It depends on the age of your building. We had 24/7 security so it was more expensive. We had paid Korean holidays. One month's severance pay at the end of our contract; sick day bonus of 400,000w.

How did you find your first job in Korea? There are ads everywhere
on the internet and I think it would be to my advantage to apply for a
position within a larger hakwon community, one with other native
english speakers.
- We found it though a Google search and some relevant ads we stumbled upon. I would suggest checking out Dave's ESL Cafe as a good place to start. There are lots of ad postings. Email them your application and then if you get far enough, ask for an email reference.

Were there any "hidden costs" or "fees" that you did not anticipate?
- Nope...we did have to pay to FedEx our documents (degree/transcripts) to Korea, that's about it.

Did someone greet you at the airport?
- Yes...the school greeted us there, and drove us back to our officetel/work. We even got dinner!

If there's anything you'd change during your planning or
stay in Korea, what would it be?
- Good question. I think the best way is to just learn to adjust and accept your new way of life in Korea. It will make life a lot easier in the long run, instead of always longing for how ways "used to be" back home.

Lots more questions answered with my FAQ on Teaching in Korea.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Riding the AREX Incheon to Gimpo Airport Line at 5:30AM

Remember when I took a "mini" food vacation to Hong Kong back in May? Well, on my way back to Seoul my flight landed at 4:45am local time. I had to make it back to Mokdong and work later in the afternoon at 2pm. I was already dead tired at the time and I needed one last trek until I would get a chance to sleep! Too bad I couldn't waste some money in the Incheon Duty Free!

At first I contemplated taking a taxi, but it would've been way overpriced (about 50-70,000w at the bare minimum), thought about taking a bus (it was leaving in 15 minutes), but in the end I decided to wait at the airport until 5:30am to catch the first train aboard the newly constructed AREX Incheon to Gimpo Airport subway line. I first saw pictures of the station through Jon Allen's blog.

Man, the arrivals area of Incheon is pretty dead at 4:45am...I felt like I was walking through a ghost town. On my way down to the AREX line, it was so empty and bare it led to an eery feeling (which is unusual because Seoul is so densely populated):

Here are the toll gates to access the line below...not a soul in sight! I had to do the Asian squat and wait patiently till 5:30am...

All the subway stations in South Korea have maps showing you where you are. The subway lines are very deep. This picture below is nothing compared to others, such as the purple line, line 5:

Check out this video of me boarding the first train (with that dude in front of me and a couple others)...I'm all alone!

Now when I told you it was EMPTY...this picture speaks for itself! I had the best seat on the train--every seat! Compare this to jam-packed subways in the morning and it was really an incredible sight:

These new subway cars had some improvements...such included some LCD screens displaying commercials and some other misc. broadcasts:

Also the subway line maps now had LEDs showing you the progress of your trip:

Now here is the train in action...

By the time I reached Gimpo Airport, then to my final destination in Mokdong, it was about 7am. I was dead tired and I just jumped right into bed. After waking up at 1pm, it was time to get ready and get back to work!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Eating At Tropika Restaurant On My Birthday

It's amazing how time flies as you get older. It seems like it was just yesterday that I celebrated my birthday in Korea at the human deathtrap attraction, known as Lotte World. Thinking back to my birthday last year, I had an eventful day that consisted of eating Nepalese at Everest in Dongdaemun, and on another occasion king crab at the shack downstairs from our officetel.

Well, another year has gone by and here I am back home in Canada. This birthday was similar to previous birthdays because it was another day of consuming delicious amounts of food. For lunch I met up with one of my best buddies downtown and we had a chicken shawarma plate at Babylon on Robson Street, one of the best joints downtown:

Fast forward to dinner and I ended up at Tropika Restaurant at Aberdeen Mall in Richmond. Tropika is a Malaysian/Thai/Singaporean/Indonesian restaurant that is one of my favorites in Vancouver. They have two other locations, with one on Robson (1128 Robson Street; 604-737-6002) and another on Cambie (2975 Cambie St; (604) 879-6002). Let's take a look at what we had for dinner--I bet this post will relate to all my South East Asian readers out there! ;) I didn't have my cameras with me so these were taken with my iPhone.

Here we have the young coconut I had to drink...pretty darn refreshing:

Tropika makes some damn good roti...we had multiple orders...

...along with some of the best satay in town. The peanut sauce really is the best part!

Here we have some hot and sour soup...nice and spicy:

Here we have the deep fried K.L. Crab, one of the in house specialties. The crab is topped with some deep fried mini shrimp. I have a love-hate relationship with crab. I love to eat it but I hate cracking those suckers open...it just gets so messy!

This was my first time trying the gado gado salad which tasted so fresh. It was a some lettuce topped with deep fried cubes of tofu, potatoes, cucumber, lots of bean sprouts, then topped with a generous portion of peanut sauce and a slice of egg. Yummy!

We also ordered half a Hainese chicken...very juicy and tasty:

This their seafood coconut fried rice served in a young coconut...it was awesome but I found the portion very small...

The pad Thai at Tropika is awesome too...in the background you see a plate of spinach (you gotta have some veggies ya know):

Probably the most exciting part of the evening was my birthday cake! Ahh, who doesn't love an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen, with a picture of Bart Simpson to boot? haha!

The only reason why people love DQ cakes is the chocolate crunch covered fudge interior...why they haven't made a cake consisting of nothing but this boggles my mind:

Tropika is a bit pricey but the food definitely rocks. The taste is pretty authentic according to Devante (who lived in Brunei for two years) Hmm...last year my birthday lasted a few days, let's see if I can stretch it again this year!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Winning Another Contest: Halo 3 Legendary Edition

Man, all I gotta say is I must have some kimchi flavored horseshoes kicking around because I keep on winning these sweet contests! Think back to my 512mb USB flash drive courtesy of Stephen Fung. That was pretty neat. Then, I also won a copy of a 7 Winning Strategies By Trading Forex courtesy of John Chow. Well, my last minute Halloween entry into Leo Chiang's Halo 3: Legendary Edition giveaway has turned out to be the coolest one yet.

After lunch at Pho Lan (and smelling like it afterwards), Leo handed me my coveted prize. I didn't realize how large the box was when I got it. But anyways, I am grateful to Leo for putting on the contest and drawing my name--thanks dude, lol! There is a funny part to this story. A long time ago (it's been almost 3 months) Leo sent me some really cool tshirts, under the assumption that I would be posting pictures of them online (today is the day). One had a London Drugs logo (I requested this--so random) and the other was from his own personal line of urban fight wear, Exit Gear.

If you're a big fan of the UFC and MMA, then you have to check out Leo's blog as he does an excellent job of summarizing the major fight nights with some good analysis. Once again, thanks for the contest Leo. What do I need to win next? An XBOX 360 of course to play Halo 3!!

So this is how it feels like to live the life of a square-head...

"Anyone can enter a ring...it's how you EXIT that counts!" This is my philosophy towards solving the mystery of not smelling like pho after eating it. Note to self: wear old dirty clothes next time!

London Drugs: the place where you can find everything--including Ed Lau:

Friday, 16 November 2007

Giving Away Free Stuff to Students

When you're about to complete your one year contract teaching English in Korea, and you have a bunch of stuff leftover, what should you do? Heck, the easiest way is not to throw it in the garbage or recycle, but to give it way in class! Children love giveways (adults too)!

This lucky class of mine (probably one of my best classes; former ex-pat Korean students that learned English overseas!) was the lucky recipient of some random things leftover in my classroom. Remember these pictures on the wall from our officetel? Well, I kept the photos but gave away the empty frames (autographed with a personal message of course)! LOL! A plant given to me from work? Give that way too! An extra picture of me from work? Might as well throw that in! A random organizer? Oh yeah! Some of my other classes received pens, binders, Post-It notes, paperclips, note pads, misc. candy, etc...

The process? A random lottery draw! Everybody loves prizes, right? First things first, put their names on a piece of paper and start picking away. Watch the following video explain the entire process (that magical tune at the end of the video signaled the beginning and end of every single class--I hear it in my nightmares!!):

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The Breakdown of a Chinese Dinner in Richmond

It's been a while since I've posted about food back home, so why not take a look at what we had for my dad's recent birthday dinner in Richmond? For the past two months he's been coming over from Victoria to practice for his entry in a Pro-Am ballroom dance competition! He placed 1st and 2nd in the two heats he entered...way to go dad!

Let's break down what happens at a typical Chinese dinner (well in my family anyways). Since it was a birthday celebration for my dad (and my sister's BF), we decided to have some king crab (read about my king crab in Seoul experience here). First things first, the waiter will always bring you a crab to "display" it at the table. It's like deciding on a bottle of wine and having the server show you the bottle before he opens it--except sometimes I wonder if the crab you picked is the actual one they serve you! Next time, I'm going to initial each leg and the shell with a Sharpie to make sure...

Our appetizer consisted of BBQ roast pork surrounded by jellyfish:

After having some soup (which I forgot to take a picture of), the steamed king crab finally arrived (1 of 2 plates). You can have your king crab steamed in a variety of ways, but one of the most popular is having each leg absolutely smothered in minced garlic. Note to self: garlic makes your breath smell like garlic!

Usually the king crab is prepared in a variety of ways. Another popular way to cook other parts of the crab is to have it deep fried and stir fried with salt and spicy peppers.

Next up, a simple dish of baby bok choy...

...followed by some crispy skin chicken...

I am a big fan of honey garlic pork (and sweet and sour pork, haha) so I requested this one baby!

It's a bird! It's a plane! Err...nope, just the Chinese waiter serving us the cake that we brought for dessert. Usually the guy will get everyone to start singing Happy Birthday...even in Cantonese or Mandarin. I tried to get him to go solo American Idol style (like Korean taxi drivers) with the Cantonese version but I was shunned! That's it buddy, no tip for you!

This cake was a multilayer cake made with fresh fruit. Thinly sliced mangoes topped with cantaloupe, honeydew, and strawberries. Chinese people love their fruit on cakes (as do Koreans!). Complimentary dessert soup was also served:

The cake...

These little buggers are steamed pastries filled with lotus seed paste. They are served on birthdays. It's like a birthday cake, but it's steamed bun filled with paste instead.

So there you have it, a night out for dinner with my family along with a small breakdown of dinner and how it can be served.

Remember that contest I entered to win a copy of Halo 3: Legendary Edition? Guess who won? That's right baby--ME! LOL! The funniest part is that I entered on the last day. Leo has been waiting for me to post up pictures of the tshirts he sent me a billion years ago (which I will, don't worry hehe). I have a feeling I might never see my copy of Halo 3...maybe by the time I win an XBOX 360, it will arrive just in time for me to play it. ;)

I've had some luck with my prizes, so it's going to be my chance to give something away coming up fairly soon. This prize definitely will appeal to all the Korea lovers out there. Stay tuned for more info!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Watching Drum Cats Near Cheonggyecheon

Cheonggyecheon, or Cheong Gye Cheon, or Cheonggye Stream has played an important part in the history of Seoul's downtown core. However, after years of neglect (don't forget something called the Korean War too), this 6 kilometer stream was covered with concrete and eventually a raised highway was built over top as well.

It wasn't until July 2003 that the current Seoul mayor decided to embark on a mammoth project to restore the
Cheonggyecheon to its original glory. At a total estimated cost of 900 billion won (about $900 million CDN; the CDN dollar is hot hot hot!). What makes this project mind-boggling is that they had to demolish a massive highway in the process, which was a major artery to the downtown core. Diamond saws were used to cut the enormous slabs of concrete which were dismantled block by block, since the public was at risk due to the density of nearby buildings. You really have to watch the video made by the
Discovery Channel's Man Made Marvels series, "Seoul Searching" (download the video) to see what was involved. Throughout the construction, archaeologists also had a field day unearthing a bunch of artifacts too.

In September 2005 the stream was finished and opened to the public. I never realized that the stream was restored until I read about it online. The water source comes from the Han River (which is pretty polluted by the way), is then sent to a plant to be processed, then flows at the beginning of the stream, and ends up flowing back into the Han. Huge boulders were laid across the stream to help control the flow of the water (as people play in the stream during the summer) along with multiple bridges and plants to create a sustainable urban environment.

When I asked
my students to name three places tourists should visit in Seoul, the majority would scream "Cheonggyecheon" at me. I was bewildered at the time, because what was so special about a stream? Anyways, after learning the history of the stream I then realized why it was such a big deal to them! Check out this post to see more pictures of Cheonggyecheon during Christmas.

Anyways, the point of this post is that near the start of the Cheonggyecheon, there area always things to check out, such as free outdoor entertainment. Near our departure date from Seoul, there was a festival happening on the weekend. One attraction was this female drum group, known as "Drum Cats". I saw this one guy with a massive XL "Rip" Hamilton tshirt and he explained to me in English that he was a big fan of these girls for their on stage performance.

Walking towards the crowd to see what was going on, we spotted this really tall Korean guy...

...who sent a lot of mixed messages...cya later buddy!!

One stage at the time, my fellow countrywomen from China performing their magical plate-spinning-with-a-bamboo-stick-which-I-have-trained-for-since-I-was
-13-months-old act!

...And here we are with the infamous Drum Cats with their #1 fan, Soulja Boy. Crank dat, son!!

Watching the Drum Cats perform was sort of the equivalent of Lord of the Dance but replace the Irish dancers with scantily-clad Korean women and drums on speed with a lot of hair flinging:

Words cannot explain, just watch the video:

Any other fans of Drum Cats out there? Don't be shy!!

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