Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Chatty Cabbie #2

I thought I had posted this last week, but I apparently just saved it as a draft and hadn't finished it yet. Oops. Oh well.

For some reason, I seem to get a fair share of taxi drivers that feel like chit chatting as they're taking me to work. I'm really not in the mood for it most mornings if they are struggling with the English and use more Korean than English - I just want them to pay attention to the road and get me to work. But sometimes they're friendly and speak English very well and have an interesting story or two. This past Friday, I had a driver that spoke very well and drove very slowly and carefully so he could talk and drive at the same time.

I decided to get a coffee at Starbucks after a few women decided to jump in front of me to try and catch a taxi. If you've been in Korea, you know what I'm talking about: you aren't at a taxi stand, but you're on the edge of the road obviously looking for a taxi to flag down and people come up, look at you, then stand just a little further up the road so they can catch a taxi first. Needless to say, this irritated me horribly so I just turned around and went to Starbucks to get a coffee with the extra time I now had since a taxi will almost always stop for a Korean before it stops for a foreigner.

So I left Starbucks with caffeine in hand and went back out to catch a taxi. There just happened to be a couple getting out of a taxi right in front of me at that moment, and the guy left the front door open for me. So I hopped in the front seat instead of the back seat like I usually do - sitting in back seems to lessen the fear factor while riding in these things most days. As I'm getting in the driver says, "Good morning! Where are you going today?" I was a little taken aback at first and had to pause a moment before I told him Samsung Jeonja tongyong mun.

Thus started a very long conversation on the way to work. I learned that he used to be a fairly high ranking civil engineer for a company and had been all over the world. He spoke Korean, English, Thai, Chinese, and some Hindi. He ever said a few phrases in each to demonstrate. He was now retired and chose to drive a taxi to give him something to do - as he put it, "Working keeps me strong!" His wife, however, is not a fan of his current choice of vocation. Her friends apparently always tell her things like "your husband used to have such high job, but now he has such poor job." Korea is all about appearances, so this of course reflects badly on her and their station in Korea. But hey, he's retired, let him drive a taxi to make a little bit of cash if he wants. Strangely enough, I've met many other drivers with similar backgrounds.

We then discussed Korean food, my job at Samsung, and why I wasn't married - a conversation I've had with several different people recently. He insisted that I should find a Korean engineer at Samsung and settle down and stay in Korea. A "Samsung guy" would be a good husband for me according to him. I just laughed and said that I was leaving the country next year, so I had no interest in dating or marrying right now.

It was quite a long ride since he drove pretty slowly and carefully, so we were able to have a nice conversation. I should learn how to call and ask for certain taxi numbers so I can get drivers that are friendly and I can talk to on the ride to work.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kim JongUn is human??

I have to say, seeing Kim JongUn smiling and laughing in photos is refreshing. Makes him appear more human and touchable to his people and the rest of the world.

Personally, I'm hoping that all of the work he's putting in to make himself seem more real to his people will lead to a better life for the N. Koreans and open the country up to more diplomatic talks with the rest of the world.

In my opinion, reuniting the 2 Koreas again would not be good for the South's economy at all. Also, the integration of the two would take A LOT of re-education for the North's people. Providing the North with the ability to stand on it's own with resources and aid (not necessarily monetary) and opening the North's media outlets up so the people can see the world beyond North Korea would do a world of good.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bus Breakdown

So...I had always wondered what would happen if a bus broke down on the way to Seoul. Today, I got to find out.

I decided to head to Seoul early to go try a cake pop at Cafe Jubilee for breakfast before meeting some friends for lunch at Ho Lee Chow. The M5107 bus is one of the more convenient buses to Seoul from Yeongtong as it's one of the express buses. It makes very few stops, doesn't allow standing in the aisles, and gets you from Yeongtong to Seoul Station in about an hour. For 2000 won, not too shabby.

I caught the 8:30 am bus (super early for me on a Saturday, btw) to make sure I'd be able to get a seat and be on my way early. The driver seemed to be a really nice guy since he didn't take off from the stops immediately - he waited a few minutes to see if anybody else was going to show up since we still had 12 seats empty on the bus. And off we go out of Suwon! Just as we get out of Suwon and onto the highway towards Seoul, the driver starts to pull over off of the road. I thought he was going to stop and see if a truck that was pulled over needed a ride to Seoul, but apparently we were having our own problems. I didn't notice anything unusual about the ride, but I guess when you drive one of these things all the time, you get used to them and how they should run. The driver says something in Korean, grabs his white gloves, and hops off the bus. He comes back a minute later and gets back in his seat and appears to be messing with the air brakes or something (I really have no clue, though, but that's what it sounded like). He announces something to us then turns the bus off and back on - I assume to see if he can reset whatever the problem is. No luck. He starts making a phone call and starts to hook up the bus mic so he can talk over the bus speakers. As luck would have it, the mic wasn't working. This just wasn't the poor guy's day.

I can only understand bits of what he's saying, but I hear "10 minutes" so I figure that's not too bad. However, the woman across the aisle from me has a suitcase with her, so I assume she really needs to be getting somewhere - probably one of the airports. The woman next to me starts making phone calls, so I guess she's supposed to be somewhere, too. People start asking questions and the driver answers to the best of his ability. I just shrug and figure I'll follow the mass if we have to make a mass exodus off the bus.

After a few minutes, a few people get up and get off the bus (the ones that REALLY needed to get to Seoul). A few minutes later, I see another M5107 with a few people standing in the aisle pull out from behind us and get back on the highway. The next M5107 out of Suwon stopped to pick up the few people that were in a hurry even though it was full. A few more minutes go by and people start getting up. A lady stops by me as she's getting off (I was in the very front seat) and looks at me and says, "Come on, we're changing buses." I thought that was very nice of her - I guess I had the "confused waegookin" look on my face. So we all hop off the bus and get on a new M5107. As we're getting on the new bus, our other driver looks at me and smiles and said "thank you" and something else. I just told him "thank you" and smiled back. And we were back on the road to Seoul. Overall, the breakdown didn't put us behind too far since I spotted the lady with the suitcase at Seoul Station when I got off the bus. I just felt kind of bad for the driver - he was stuck there waiting for a tow truck or mechanic or something.

So, if your bus breaks down, don't worry and just sit tight: a new bus will be on its way soon to collect you all.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cafe Jubilee - Itaewon

For this blog post, let’s zip up to Itaewon in Seoul for a coffee shop/chocolatier. Café Jubilee is located across the street from Hamilton Hotel where the Coffee Bean used to be. I'm not very good at remembering exit numbers after a while, sorry!
It’s a map!

I’ve only been here a couple of times to just kind of pass time while waiting for people to meet up usually. It’s a decently sized place with a nice patio for a smoking area. They also have lots of window seating so it makes a nice place to sit and people watch in Itaewon, too. Both times that I’ve been here, it hasn’t been very busy at all, and they have wi-fi.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a chocolatier shop, so they have lots of different yummy desserts and chocolates available. I haven’t ever tried any, unfortunately, because I’ve usually just eaten a huge lunch and I’m not hungry enough to have dessert.
Macaroons (top left), chocolates, and truffles (bottom shelf).

Nuts (top left), cake pops (top right), and truffles (bottom).

Muffins (top), tortes (middle), scones (middle right), and cakes (bottom).

I believe they also have some popsicles and such available in a cooler. I think next time I go in, I’ll try a cake pop or a muffin – those both look really yummy right now. You can also get iced and hot coffees and teas here for the usual Korean coffee shop prices (around 3000 – 5000 won).
Iced caramel macchiato.

Overall, I think a nice little dessert place to stop in and relax and try something new.

Updated So, I came up this morning to Cafe Jubilee to try a cake pop for breakfast since I'm always too full after lunch to get dessert here :). So, this is a cake pop.
Took me 5 minutes to open the damn thing
The texture is like a cake, but denser. This one is the chocolate one (I told the guy to surprise me when he asked me what kind I wanted). I think they have strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and something else: they aren't labeled. The flakes on the outside of this one are chocolate flakes. It was really quite good and very chocolatey. I'll have to try a strawberry or something next time.

Updated: 08/08/2012

Before I jump in to my update, Cafe Jubilee has updated their business hours to the following:
Monday - Thursday: 7am - 2am
Friday and Saturday: Open 24 hours
Sunday and Holidays: Closed

So I went back to Cafe Jubilee to pass time until meeting some friends for lunch and tried something new for breakfast: a coffee fondant.

It was really very good and warm since they heated it up in the microwave before serving it to me. The middle has a sort of coffee flavored cream and also what tasted to me like peanut butter. The texture is light and fluffy so it doesn't sit heavily on your stomach. I wouldn't say it's extremely filling or anything, but it tastes really good and is good for a light breakfast or snack.

I also looked a little closer at their drink cooler/rack and noticed that you can get mini bottles of wine to go with your chocolate (bottom shelf).

So yeah, I still recommend this place for some good chocolates and desserts and to just chill for a bit out of the sticky heat of Korean summer.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Waffle Bant - Yeongtong

So, this past weekend I was in the mood for a waffle, which was never realized at Caffe Bene. However, I did go to Waffle Bant after leaving Caffe Bene hoping to fulfill my desire for a fruit and syrup drenched waffle. Well, I got a waffle of sorts – just not the kind I was hoping for. Waffle Bant is a chain of waffle stores with the Yeongtong branch located in the same area as Miss & Mr. Potato.

They have this strange saying all over the place in the shop, too. I kept looking at it and chuckling to myself.

They really only have 3 kinds of waffles here at this location (bigger locations may have more – I don’t know): plain, walnut, and…and…blueberry I think? I’ll check on that. The little Belgian waffles are about the size of the palm of your hand and perfect for a little snack. They cost around 2000 won each. They have sets available with a waffle, coffee, and some ice cream, too. If you have a large group you want to get waffles for, you can get packs of 12 or so, as well.

I got the walnut waffle (호두 와플) and sat down to wait for the ajumma to make it. The waffle is a little sticky on the outside from some type of sweet syrup lightly brushed over it, so you eat it by holding the paper. The waffle was quite good: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside with just the right amount of walnuts mixed throughout.

I decided to eat it there since I was going to A Twosome Place for coffee afterwards. I was all about the being up early and doing stuff this past weekend for some insane reason. The inside of this branch is tiny, but it does have a few places to sit and enjoy your waffle/ice cream/coffee.

When the lady brought my little waffle over to me, I noticed this adorable little drawing on the wrapper.

After my horrible experience at Caffe Bene, this little drawing made me smile and got my weekend off to the pleasant start I was looking for. So if you’re looking for a little sweet snack after having some galbi or some spicy Korean food, stop by Waffle Bant for a little waffley goodness.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Caffe Bene - Yeongtong

Alrighty...Caffe Bene. *sigh* I so wanted to be able to write a nice, happy, wonderful post about the waffle I went in search of this morning. But that is not to be. You have incurred my wrath, Caffe Bene, and now I must write an angry blog about you. This particular Caffe Bene opened up about a year ago or so across from Baskin Robbins.
Duh-nuhnuhnuhnuh-nuh MapTime!

Caffe Bene serves little waffles with a variety of toppings available, coffee, and gelato. The waffles will run about 3000 to 4000 won depending on what type you order. Coffee is around 4000 - 5000 won.
The gelato flavors available

The inside of the shop is kind of small, but there is another section across the hall. The chairs are pretty comfy, but they are kind of low.
I would love to show you a picture of the caramel banana waffle that I ordered, BUUUT I didn't get a caramel banana waffle. Nope. I got this piece of nastiness:

That would be a honey egg sandwich, and it tasted like it sounds: not good. I took it anyway even though I told the girl that's not what I ordered - I ordered a caramel banana waffle. She started babbling something in Korean about a "special set" and pointing at the menu, but I have no idea what she was saying - I can understand some Korean, but this chick had a retainer or braces and I couldn't understand a single word of what she was saying. I just threw up my hands and said, "whatever" and took the nasty sandwich even though I never uttered the words "set" or "sandwich" when I ordered. I guess my "waffle banana caramel" sounded like "honey egg sandwich" to her. I have no clue how, though. The sandwich wasn't good, though. I took two bites and that's it. I even peeled the ham off to make it more edible. The bread was sweet (hence "honey" in the name) and chewy and the piece of "egg" was rubbery and tasteless. At least my iced caramel machiatto was ok.

Overall, my experience here was not good and I will not be going back - there are other places in Yeongtong to get waffles.

As a side note, this kind of problem happens a lot to foreigners in Korea (at least foreigners that I know) - especially in taxis. Koreans expect to NOT be able to understand you to begin with, which already biases their listening skills when you talk to them. The problem isn't your pronunciation - most Koreans seem to be completely unable to connect the dots when you say the wrong word. For example, "pojang" means "take out" and is used for food take out: "take out" or "to go" is used for drinks like at a coffee shop. If you use "pojang" for your coffee at a coffee shop, oftentimes the employee will look at you with a confused look and have no clue what you're talking about. They are just completely unable to make that word meaning leap for some reason. In English, we can understand a wide variety of accents and understand people even if they use the wrong word, usually. However, in Korean, that seems to not be the case. I used to (and still do) tell the story of when I first came to Korea and would take a a taxi to Homeplus. The conversation would go something like this:
Me: Ingyedong Homeplus kajuseyo.
Driver: Odi?
Me: Ingyedong Homeplus.
Driver: Uuhhh...moolahyo...
Me: *sigh* Ingyedongah Homeplusah. (and a little part of my soul died)
Driver: Ahh! Homeplusah! Nay!!

For some ungodly reason, they just can't make that leap in understanding from "Homeplus" to "Homeplus-ah" because you aren't saying it the "Korean" way.

So, since they don't expect to be able to understand you, they purposely don't no matter what you say or how well you say it.

At any rate, yeah, there's a Caffe Bene in Yeongtong that will serve you a nasty-ass sandwich instead of a yummy waffle if you want to go check it out.

Yeongtong - My Neighborhood

It dawned on me as I was leaving my apartment this morning that I've never really shown much of the part of Suwon that I live in. In light of that, this post will mostly just be a few pictures of my neighborhood and such. Yeongtong-Gu is one of the districts of Suwon City. Suwon has a population of about 1 million people, and Yeogntong-Gu of about 260,000 people with a few thousand of those being foreigners. From what I understand, this area was established in 2003 to be kind of a "mini-Seoul" where people that worked in Seoul but didn't want to live there could live and have quick and easy access to the city. Samsung Digital City is near here and a good chunk of the foreign employees there live here, myself included.
The view from my apartment at night

They've resurfaced and re-landscaped the walkways around my apartment complex.

Some stairs in my complex

The park in my complex and my building

A small Buddhist temple next to my apartment

They're adding a subway stop in Yeongtong to connect Yeongtong to Bundang

This is the largest tree I've ever seen in Korea, and it's located at the end of my apartment block. Love it.

Gem of India - Springfield, MO

While I was home this last trip at the end of May/beginning of June, I finally made it over to try Gem of India: one of a couple of Indian food restaurants in Springfield, MO. Gem of India is located at 211 W. Battlefield, just east of Campbell Avenue.

I'm not sure why I've waited so long to eat here since I do love me some Indian food. They offer a lunch buffet every day from 11:00 am – 2:30 pm. My brother frequently enjoys this on the weekends and says it’s good with a nice variety of items. They also offer a dinner buffet, but only on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm: why these two days only, I have no clue. Their menu is available online for browsing, and you can also order delivery online through a 3rd-party delivery service.

I was indecisive on what I wanted, but knew that I wanted samosas as an appetizer, so my brother and I went with the Gem of India Dinner for Two (#116 on the menu). I don’t believe we received the raita that was supposed to come with it, but it didn’t really matter since we couldn’t even finish what we did get. Seriously, 3 people could easily eat the dinner for two if you order another naan to go with it. We went with the meal since it’s the best value. I wouldn’t say that Gem of India is too pricy, but unless you split a dish (which you totally can since they’re large enough), you can end up spending about $40 dollars on a meal if you order 2 curries, bread, rice, and such separately since the curries run between $10 and $14 each.

This is my brother once again looking thrilled that I’m visiting while we’re waiting for food to arrive. He said he had a headache, but I’m not too sure how much I believe him :).

This is the mulligatawny soup. It wasn’t too bad. I can’t remember exactly what it tasted like right off hand, so it wasn’t too memorable, either.

This is the papadam, which is kind of a baked lentil wafer thing. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor to it, but the flavor it does have is distinct…I can’t really describe it though. It's fine by itself but better if you dip it in one of the sauces they bring out.

This is the vegetable samosas (the upper part of the plate) and the vegetable pakora (lower part of the plate). I looove samosas and pakora. Samosas are a fried dumpling/turnover type thing filled with potato and peas – sometimes they’ll have carrots, too. Pakora are battered and fried vegetables (usually onion, cauliflower, potatoes, and spinach). I could seriously eat a meal consisting of just these two things. So yummy.

This is the garlic naan. It comes with plain naan, but I asked if we could substitute garlic naan instead. The naan was good and fresh and not overcooked. I do wish they had smaller naan and brought out multiple pieces instead of the one giant naan to share: I’m kind of weird about touching food that others might eat and others touching food that I might eat. I blame it on years of working in food service.

This is the tandoori chicken. My brother hadn’t had tandoori chicken before, but he liked it even though he would’ve preferred the boneless variety (I would've, too). Tandoori chicken is chicken coated in yogurt and spices and cooked in a special oven (a tandoor). This was dark meat pieces, which I’m not a fan of, but it was still good. It tasted like most tandoori chicken I’ve had at places here in Korea. It can be a bit spicy, but usually it’s not too hot. It's always very tender and moist no matter where I've had it.

This is the lamb bhuna curry. I’m not usually a big fan of lamb (it’s a texture thing), but this wasn’t too bad. The lamb was tender and not chewy like other lamb I’ve had before. The curry was spicy but not overpowering. The sauce is thick enough to not run off of your naan, too.

This is the chicken tikka masala curry. I usually prefer the vegetarian curries at Indian restaurants since I never know if the chicken pieces are going to have bones in them or not. Luckily, Gem of India uses boneless chicken in their curries, so the chicken tikka masala is quite good. Sorry for the blurry pictures of the curry. I find it really hard to describe the flavor of Indian dishes because it’s hard to have a reference. A lot of them are just different kinds of spicy with vegetables or meat. The meal also came with saffron rice, but I forgot to take a picture of it.

The dessert we both picked was the gulab jamun. These are deep fried balls of wheat served in a super, super sweet syrup. If you’ve ever had Indian desserts before, you know they’re usually pure sugar, and these are no exception. They remind me of donut holes in pure corn syrup.

I didn’t take any pictures of the inside of the restaurant, but it’s your typical Indian restaurant décor with kind of over-the-top frilliness. By that I mean wine glasses for your water, cloth napkins, nice tablecloths, soft lighting…you feel like you’re underdressed in your jeans and t-shirt even though you know it’s just all for show.

I would definitely eat here again next time I’m home and try out the palek paneer, which is probably my favorite curry. Mmm, palek paneer. If I’m with a group, maybe get another one of the “special dinners” for multiple people so we can try a variety of things.