October 2009


One of my favorite parts of life in Korea is the food!! Not that my love of food is anything new, but I really love the flavors and approach to eating here.

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At most meals you are served the dish you ordered and a bowl of rice and the whole table is filled with side-dishes to share. The side dishes can be anything and change according to the restaurant and day. There is always (at least 1 type) kimchi! Usually there are a couple dishes of vegetables or greens, maybe some fish cakes or egg pancakes or dried fishes. A couple of the dishes are usually sweet and a couple spicy . Good news- they are always refillable!!

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Last night I went to dinner with another professor and we had Bulgogi- a sweet and savory beef stir fry with clear rice noodles that cooks at the table. It was delicious. Twice this week for lunch I had a spicy kimchi tuna stew that was also amazing!

One of my favorites (and an easy meal) is “bi bim bop.” Bop is rice. It’s served in a big bowl- rice with various thinly sliced vegetables, seaweed flakes, bean sprouts, egg and sometime a little bit of beef. I also like a variation call “bo ri bop” that mixes barley with the rice. You mix it all together with red pepper paste and eat it with a spoon. I’ve even tried this at home and it was almost right. . .

If you are interested in cooking Korean food, I found this Korean Recipes website in English. The recipes look really good! I have yet to try any chicken ginseng soup, but I hear it’s total comfort food and a specialty in Daegu. I see there is a recipe for it on the website.

As the seasons are changing back in the US, they are also changing here. It’s beginning to be soup weather and I’m looking forward to the new eating adventures the season will bring.

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So, what did I buy at the grocery tonight?

Bean sprouts

Mixed greens: romaine, chard, collards (from what I can guess).

Sesame leaves

A bag of peeled garlic

Crispy Waffles (cookies)

Caramelized multigrain buiscuits

Dried mangoes

Dr. You high nutrition protein bars

Peanut butter filled pretzels

A jar of pimento olives

Slowly but surely I am finding more and more things and filling my new pantry. I am amazed by how many “western” foods I can find in Daegu, and it’s just a matter of finding which stores sell which items. I buy some of my produce from the big super markets, but a lot of the fruit I buy from vendors on the street. It’s harvest time for apples, pears (asian ones- gigantic sized, sweet and crispy), and persimmons! The fruit here is really fabulous!

What do I really miss? Cheese!! Everyone tells me I can get it at Costco. Yup, that’s right, we’ve got a Costco in Daegu. The same as in the US. If you have a Costco card from the US, you can use it here!! Since I don’t have one from the US I will have to get one here (and I had to wait to do that until I got my alien registration card). So maybe next weekend I’ll be heading to Costco for some cheese :-). Wouldn’t that be AMAZING??!

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From the south side of Daegu, looking northwest

One the things I’ve been able to do a few times now in Daegu: hiking! Daegu sits in a valley with mountains on three sides, so there are plenty of places to choose. A few of my coworkers started a hiking club and invited me to join!

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Crew from the first hike

Now, hiking here is not for the faint-hearted! Switch-backs? Never heard of them here. We hike up the mountain by hiking STRAIGHT up the mountain. But there are also extra things here. On this hike at the halfway point there was a flat area with two badminton courts and some various exercise equipment (including a hoola-hoop, which is considered exercise equipment here!). We stopped and hit the birdie around for a while. . . something I haven’t done since 8th grade PE.

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On the top, looking south, to the other side of the mountain, a little village.

I’ve really enjoyed being able to get above the city, where the air is a little cleaner and quieter. It’s also been a great time to learn much from my Korean colleagues. Last week I learned the days of the week.

Sunday: il-yo-il (sun)

Monday: wol- yo-il (moon)

Tuesday: hwa-yo-il (fire)

Wednesday: su-yo-il (water)

Thursday: mo-yo-il (wood)

Friday: gum-yo-il (gold)

Saturday: toe-yo-il (dirt)

By the numbers:

1- VISA I now have. I’m legal and have now applied for my alien card!! Yay!

2- days I was in Japan last week getting the visa.

6- days we have off for Chusok, Korean Thanksgiving. 3 were unexpected and given last week by the President of Keimyung to avoid any effects of swine flu. OK, sure!

70- instant coffee sticks in the big bag I just bought. I’m starting to like instant coffee. . . I’m caving.

But just barely. . .

So far, I have been doing OK with life in Korea. Actually, I really like it! Things are new and language is difficult, but generally I have everything I need, I’m safe and well cared for. I don’t often feel like I need to “be brave” because although everything is new, it’s not scary.

This morning was a different story. I had to go to the hospital for a physical examination! It’s required by the university but I had repeatedly put it off. Yesterday it was made clear to me by a couple people that I needed to do it ASAP. . . . that the time for putting off had come to an end.

Keimyung has a university hospital with an international clinic, so I called them and they made an appointment for me this morning. OK, good, that was the first step. Then this morning I hopped on the subway and made my way to the hospital. I was running a little late and didn’t know exactly where I was going. Bad combo. I called the international clinic from the back side of the hospital. Help!? And the nice lady came and walked me around the front and into the clinic. I learned quickly that the clinic is more of a clearing house for internationals, not necessarily where I would see the doctor. But rather a place where you can get information in English and they will help to take you to the various places within the hospital. At this point I’m feeling QUITE overwhelmed. I had no idea what sort of “examination” I needed, nor what to do, where to go, how much it would cost, etc. And all around me there are SO many people. Some were walking around in hospital gowns, trailing IV carts, some in wheelchairs, and others are waiting in the rooms, outside the rooms or in the middle of the hallways. It was very clean, just very busy.

I also learned quickly that the process in the hospital is different from in the USA. First, you pay the doctor’s fee. Then you see the doctor. If he prescribes anything or requests tests, then you visit the cashier again to pay before having said tests.

I was escorted to the cashier, and surprised with the good news that I am exempt from the doctor’s fee because I work for Keimyung and this is the university’s hospital! YES!! Then upstairs to the 6th floor to wait in the hallway for the doctor. While waiting I had my blood pressure taken and a little girl next to me points at my nose ring and says many things to her mother in Korean. It’s all feeling very surreal.

The doctor spoke some English and the first thing he asks me, “Why are you here?” I’m thinking, uh, because I’m crazy?? I don’t know! I just kept repeating, “I’m here for my university employment exam”.  I was prescribed 3 tests and told to return the following day. WHAT? I have to come BACK here?

I go back downstairs to the international clinic, back to the cashier, then to the first test: chest x-ray. Not too bad. Then we walked to another floor for the pee test and blood test. Yes, that’s right, I’m going to have my blood drawn. At this point “level” and “headed” are not two words that fit together for me. I attempted the pee test, but had to do it in a squatty toilet, a big challenge. I cleaned myself up and bee-lined it for the waiting chairs, hoping for a few moments to prepare.

Now the room I was in was a big square with a counter on one side behind which many techs/nurses sat to draw blood. There was a group of waiting room chairs along the opposite wall, and when you were called, then you went and sat at the counter, put your arm out for the sticking, and your blood taken from your body. I watched this for a few moments, and then I was called. . .

Holding the cotton ball to my arm I pushed through the stairways back to the international clinic.

The nice young girl who had escorted me to all the tests was back in the room. She asked, “Are you OK?”

I said, “No!” and burst into tears.

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I’m revisiting this story now, after a couple days, after visiting the hospital 2 more times. My other 2 visits were much less traumatic!  And in fact, I have now a bit of a friendly relation with the young Korean girl who so kindly brought me water as I was crying.

I am happy to report I have been officially declared healthy! Only took 3 trips to the hospital.