Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Grand Children's Park

Excluding our trip to America, we've been hibernating for the past few months here in Busan. Finally, the weather is changing from intolerable to barely tolerable. On the Monday of our 3-day Lunar New Year weekend, we decided to brave the cold and do something outdoors. We chose to go to the Grand Children's Park which is a short distance from our apartment and an even shorter distance from my school.

The Grand Children's Park is less like a park and more like a nature walk. Despite the fact that it's called the "children's" park, there were very few children around. Mostly, hikers (fully dressed in their swishy pants, visors, and equipped with trekking poles), groups of ajummas, and couples strolled the walkway. There were also groups of men off to the sides of the trail playing Baduk, the Korean version of Go.

Each time we go on an outdoor excursion, I'm always surprised at how quiet and tranquil it can get in the heart of a big city. As soon as we began walking on the trail, the sounds of buzzing cars and horns honking all but disappeared.

Soon, we came upon a giant lake surrounded by layers of rolling mountains. The path we walked on bordered the lake on one side and trees on the other. We heard many birds calling and saw ducks and geese in the lake.

It's a good thing to know that there's a "rescue tube box" next to the lake in case of emergencies. 

There were also several statues and memorials along the path at the Grand Children's Park. Luckily, there were signs written in Korean and in English for those who aren't cultured in South Korean history.

In addition to statues of great Korean men, there were also statues of animals. Below is a picture of Tyler valiantly riding a golden elephant. Below that is a picture of me sitting next to the Pillsbury Doughboy's girlfriend with a flower on her head. 

And finally, to end this post, we will feature some questionable artwork proudly displayed on the fence lining the lake. We have captioned the scenes below for your viewing pleasure and for your contemplation. 
"The Ugly Duckling" 

"Lost in Translation"

"Winners and Losers"

Friday, February 8, 2013

Grocery Shopping

A quiet afternoon at Home Plus (or if you were Korean you would say Hom-uh Plus-oo): where one can grab their daily groceries and a puppy or two; or an entertainment center; or furnishings for an entire apartment complex - you get the idea. It's six stories of goods to provide for your basic needs, and any superfluous need you can imagine. Natalie and I stick to food, as navigating our way around the swerving patrons (swerving i.e.: 2am last call at the local tavern in a small town) is not particularly enjoyable.

The most startling difference I have found shopping here than anywhere else outside of Korea (not counting the shoppers themselves) is the number of customer services representatives in their stores. Take the arbitrary picture below for example. Want an orange? Or better yet do you want to know something about these particular oranges? If so you are in luck. If the rep loitering to the right doesn't have the answer to your question, or can't understand what you are saying, his 2 orange-rep friends to left will surely be there remedy the situation. 

In all honesty, the plethora of representatives turns out to be extremely helpful, as often times there is a serious lack of communication, and a few heads trying to communicate is better than two.

Below we have a very kind "sushi" rep (though "sushi" in Korea is not what you might typically think, but seems to be sashimi [minus the rice] from local fish - many of which I have not heard of but are none the less delicious). She saw me from a ways away and waved me over. I wonder if I stick out?

Next to the sushi section was the fish section. We had never bought fish here until this occasion. Considering everything was in Korean, choosing a fish (none of which I recognized) was sort of like picking numbers for the lotto. I chose, she cleaned the fish right in front of me, chopped it up, and put into bags for me.  


Adjacent to the fish we have all the variations of Kimchi, and further in the background a showcase of side dishes. When you eat here, you generally have 1 main dish, and - no kidding - at least 4 or 5 small plates of various things, such as radish and....well that's the only one that I know. The rest are veggies (I think) of some sort. It's generally quite good and I feel like I'm getting a lot more than I pay for. Anyway, just looking at the counter in the background, which continues out of sight to the right, gives  you a good idea of the variety of side dishes.

Though you can't see it here there are representatives just out of sight of the picture to help with Kimchi and the VERY large meat section. There are stalls of different fresh meat that include what appears to be an "auctioneer" to each stall. I call it that because that's what it sounds like: a man/woman yelling quickly and very loudly in Korean to the various customers about the special. They even yell at us - the "whities" who clearly speak about as much Korean as the average household pet. It's certainly very entertaining and American shopping has a lot to learn on this note.

Next is the bakery, which is accordingly small compared to the other sections. Normally there is one woman to the bakery who tries to "auction" off the bread. She's not in the picture however. 

A 50 yard isle of rainbow colored plastic wrap and salt.

A second but downsized section of what one normally thinks of as sushi (rolls).

This is the kind of picture which requires a lot of video or a chapter in a long novel. The store has these sample stands (e.g. Costco). But the old Korean ladies called Ajumas who, if you visit Korea you will inevitably their elbows in your sides or their shoulders in your back - they don't waste time saying excuse me, race after these stands like it's the finish line of Supermarket Sweepstakes: literally running to get there. It's quite fantastic. No lines. No stopping. No prisoners.

We found out that 1+1 means buy one get one free. It's the only type of discount I have seen at Home Plus. Talk about a great deal.

There are baggers in Korea: the people buying the groceries. It's like philanthropy for yourself.

Below is a video summarizing the trip: 

Our bag of goods. The chicken breast are delicious, and as you might expect their mushroom selection is fabulous, fresh, and very inexpensive. We can get a surprising number of the amenities that we can back home.

Included in my bag of fish. I'm still not sure what I was supposed to do with it. The fish tasted good. But suffice it to say that between our apartment's smelling like a dirty harbor the next day and my stomach's feeling that night like something you might find under one of the piers, I won't be buying that fish again. Trial and error. Never a dull moment in Korea.