South Korea in my Mind

In the height of my K-pop addiction 4 years ago, I really wanted to set foot in South Korea. I actually prepped myself for it: started foodtripping with Shirl, April, Agnes and Rhiza; learned  Hangeul characters and read words; memorized basic phrases and the list goes on.

Then it waned. Just when I stopped watching Yunyega every Tuesday and visiting Soompi every other week and the only K-related activity I do is updating myself with Hyun Bin,  an opportunity for me to go to South Korea landed on my feet. I grabbed the chance to reimmerse myself with the Korean culture – in a grand fashion. In between lectures and field visits, I soaked up all the K experience I can absorb.

Laking Korea
Mace, one of my colleagues, told the group in our table one Saturday morning that I am laking Korea. One asked, “Totoo?” Which Mace immediately replied, “Dito sya lumaki sa Korea! Tayong lahat, lumaki talaga sa Korea.” Meaning, everyone gained an inch or two with all the banchans served to us every meal.

No doubt about it, Korean cuisine is not only good in taste, it is also very pleasing to the eyes. For someone who is into spicy food, kimchi is not a yucky taste and stews are meant to be enjoyed and not diluted with glass of water. Yet, my heart still goes for the pickled radish which comes in yellow or pink. I haven’t tried kalgooksu but jajangmyeon (they were wrong when they say it is an acquired taste – the real thing really taste sooooo gooood), samgyeopsal with soju, samgyetang (the real sarap to the bones with the uber tenderness of the chicken; think arroz caldo with the whole chicken and Korean herbs), octopus with gochujang (new favorite!) and odeng and ddukbokki in Chungang Market (for the street food experience) made me fall inlove with their cuisine all over again.

<<Street food experience with Mel, Jann and Mace

Koreans love their appetizers but everytime banchans are served, most of my colleagues would sigh and say “Can we have the main course already?” Dang, appetizer pa lang, ulam na.

For the sweet tooth, they actually don’t have desserts. Their pinaka-end of the meal beverage is coffee from a dispenser near the restaurant’s main entrance.

Fashion
Everyone looks fashionable. Not in the Western kind of way but in their own style. I think they have mastered the art of layering and walking in high heels like our K partner Hye Young  (we call her Ann) who can walk the green tea plantation with her 3 inch heels. And the men, they all look good in suits. And when they dress down, they still look good with the layers of clothes they have.

They love their violets.

When we were in Myeong-dong in downtown Seoul, it seemed the street was a big catwalk, the place being the fashion district. Even the street where our hotel is located is full of trendy people —day in and day out, you can see guys dressed like some k-pop idols and girls looking like they stepped out of a magazine.

Englishee
Language is still a bit of a challenge especially when one goes outside the city. Our lectures most of the time took double the time since we have an interpreter. And with the penchant of Pinoys to ask a lot of questions – a 30 minute open forum would actually be an hour of Q and A.

Good thing that our counterparts do know how to speak English. Some are functional, some got the North American accent. You just need to simplify your sentences though, high falluting words not included.

How we love to exchange Filipino/Hangul lessons! From “annhyeong haseyo” to “hana-dul-set-net” to “alis na tayo” to “matulog na tayo.” Every bus ride to the field site became a Language 101 session.

Two phrases I learned : Chanangniya!(Just kidding) and Mashita! (It’s delicious!)

Getting Cultured

Korea is not only known for its Hallyu stars that swept across Asia. For a change, we forgot that we are in the land of Bi, Wonder Girls, Jang Dong Gun and Boys over Flowers. We were able to watch 2 different performing arts : Nanta Cooking (a musical slash skit) and the Legend of Flower (cultural presentation ala the Bayanihan Dancers). Nanta Cooking was performed in Myeong Dong – a story about chefs racing against time for a 6PM wedding dinner. They played with water bottles, laddles, knives, pots and pans. Energizing performance with abs all over the place (added bonus) while hitting the drums with colored water on top. Legend of the Flower, on the other hand, is performed at an exclusive area in a chi-chi neighborhood in Seoul. It was too traditional (except for the breakdancing in one part of the performance) with a tight rope exhibition to boot! Everyone was dressed in the traditional garb and the music emanating was reminiscent of  Korean Air’s TVC.

Before that start of the performance

History Buffs and Traditions

Koreans love their history so much. Their history actually is well documented that you can’t help but wonder, how did they do that? Palaces are over the place, even in downtown Seoul; there are lots of tangible monuments (as what they call them) scattered in every city/province/county; and traditional houses are ubiquitous. As we experienced in Boseong, sleeping in a traditional room with the heated floor is one for the books. Eating in a low table and sharing a big pot of stew (di uso ang serving spoon) are common. Being served with soju by someone older with your two hand holding your shot glass used to be just part of the scene in a Korean drama but actually doing it is really cool. Nagkakabistuhan sa seniority.

Doing the Korean way is unforgettable.

Hot Stuff and Coffee

Aside from spicy dishes, they love their coffee as much as they love their green tea. In Anyang2-ro alone, there are at least 5 coffee shops – Starbucks not included. And their coffee shops are not the cafes you usually see. They actually have theme cafes! One has frilly pink-princess type; one reminiscent of the Coffee Prince, and; dreaming cafe that looks like a teen’s bedroom.

When they are not drinking in the cafe, iced canned coffee is the way to go. We were always served iced coffee that I actually crave for it every night. You drink it while in a session, inside the bus and walking along Seoul. Dang those iced coffee!

Speaking of coffee, don’t expect the overflowing being served as “may sipa” as kapeng barako. Unless you go to Starbucks or the real coffee shops I mentioned above, their brewed coffee looks like black tea with just a hint of caffeine.

Kimchi-smile

I think they now realized that Pinoys love to take photos. And love to pose for wacky shots. At first,  they were wondering what is a wacky shot…which they eventually got the hang of it.  It goes beyond the usual peace sign, they learned.

Group hug with Hummer/Hyun Moo

If our group love wacky shots, they are so into a squeeze or akbay shots. Just get a picture taken with anyone of them and they either put their faces so close to your face or they’ll put their hand on your shoulders or when you are between two guys, actually sandwich you na tipong di kayo nagkakasya sa frame. They are really touchy-feely when it comes to photo-ops. This goes for the Korean ladies too.

 

With Sung Wan and Mace at Boseong Green Tea Plantation

With ka-chikang Hyun-woong/Ares

Sung Jae, Mr. Lee and Mace plus me

K experience like no other. With the two weeks I stayed there with the MIC and Saman people, it is indeed an unforgettable training.

I’ll definitely go back (budget and time permit) and probably meet some of ’em.

Oh yeah, some will be coming over this November. Pinas’ turn to extend big time hospitality.


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