New post! Why you should visit Korea this fall – In Yeon ow.ly/1mtQtQ #Korea #Travel
One of the strangest things we ate on our recent trip to Korea was a plate of very fresh raw octopus. This stuff is so fresh that it is still wiggling and squirming. It makes for a strange meal as you have to try to hold on with chopsticks, dip it in hot sauce and then chew into the rubbery flesh as it moves inside your mouth and down your throat as you swallow. The video is quite telling as you can see Rory’s friends and I trying to keep the damn thing on the dish.
Anyone else eat this before?
Having just returned from Korea where Rory and I were very busy preparing for the wedding in May, I was quickly reminded of how different the toilet culture is in Korea. There is nothing that can prepare you for it if you are from the Western Hemisphere. The incident came in the restroom at Outback Steakhouse. The stall was outfitted with a very sophisticated toilet that was operated by some sort of control panel. Unfortunately the controls were not in English and I pushed one that caused a small spout to appear from beneath the seat and sprayed me with a very precise jet of toilet water. This leads me to my first point about toilets in Korea:
1. Toilets are often more than just toilets. Seriously, one of the buttons had an icon that looked as though it could also function as a hair dryer.
My second realization came when I was in the toilet at an upscale department store. There, I sat down to do my business only to realize that from where I was sitting, I had a full view of the office building across the street as well as the pedestrians below. I could see them and, they could see me. Similarly, at another restaurant, I went to a urinal that was directly in front of a large open window that looked out into a courtyard. Therefore:
2. Toilets are not always private.
Being in Korea in December, it was averaging -10 degrees Celsius when we were there. Many times, the toilets at restaurants or stores were outside the main heated section of the building and in a hallway towards the back. These places are seldom heated and so going to the bathroom was sometimes a chilling experience. Lesson 3:
3. Your pee may freeze.
Koreans love toilets. I don’t know why but they seem to be very proud of them. So much so they even design houses like toilets. This is why, even in some of the grungiest back alleys of Seoul, public toilets are often spotlessly clean beacons of ceramic comfort. In Canada I would never go into one of these. There would be no paper, no light, bugs, dirty seats, no running water and graffitti advertising the shady services of guys named ‘Long John’.
4. If you really gotta go in Korea, don’t worry, there are clean toilets everywhere.
Now that said, it isn’t always true. Some toilets are really old. And even some of the new ones are not the sit down style toilets we Westerners are used to. They require a certain amount of flexibility and dexterity. That’s right…
5. You might have to squat!
In North America, the bathroom is an important component of the entire home. In addition to the bath/shower, toilet and sink operations it is also part library, part powder room and part walk-in closet. When describing homes, we even specify whether it is whole or half bathrooms. “3 and 1/2 baths” (whatever that means!). But in Korea, the bathroom is a functional, compact effective use of a small space. Firstly, they are usually all ceramic, tiled from the floor to the ceiling with nay a bathmat to be found. For this reason, there are no shower curtains either. This means you can splash and spray all over and everything just runs down into a drain. I’ve been in bathrooms where I was showering sitting on the toilet in a space the size of a refrigerator box. This also makes them self cleaning in a way. Very smart.
6. Korean bathrooms are not a luxury, they are a necessity.
Oh and Korean toilets also tend to share facilities between the genders. That’s right, often you might find that women are walking past you at the urinal to get to their stall or you both share the same sink area. It doesn’t bother me as much as some people but I still recognize that it is a bit strange.
7. Everybody poops! But in Korea they don’t hide it so much.
Korea has a toilet super hero, his name is Sim Jae-Duck (Jack), 68 and he is the man who brought about the ‘restroom revolution’. According to him bathrooms are an important “cultural space”, and a “beautiful place to rest and meditate.” *update* According to the Sanitation Updates blog, Mr Toilet died earlier this year. He was the founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO). *update again* I’m now not sure if there are two toilet superheroes with the name Sim. There is a Jack Sim and Sim Jae-Duck, who built the toilet house. Either way…
8. Koreans love toilets so much they make international organizations, build colleges and lead revolutions for improving them.
Wow, I didn’t even realise I had so much to say about toilets. I’ll leave you with this then. I found this joke at one of my favorite Korean blogs, Ask a Korean.
Two guys were sitting in the public bathroom stalls, when the first guy talks to the second guy:
A: Er, excuse me. Do you have any toilet paper?
B: I’m sorry, I do, but just enough for myself.
A: Oh come on, can you please help me out?
B: No way man, I’m sorry.
A: Look, I’ll pay you $10 for that toilet paper.
B: I’m sorry, I really need this.
$10 bill is slipped into B’s stall from A’s stall.
A: Alright then, do you have ten $1 bills?
So tomorrow Rory and I leave for Seoul and attempt to leap the second major hurdle in our quest for matrimony. The first, of course, was meeting Rory’s mom earlier in the year. That time, I was nervous until I saw that she was just as nervous, having never been outside Korea and meeting her daughter’s Canadian fiancée for the first time. Then, the language barrier was accepted and Rory translated for us both.
This time it’s different because I will be the one out of my element. Not only will I have to present myself to Rory’s father and brother, I will also be bowing low to grandma, uncles and some neighbors. I promised Rory’s mom six months ago that I would learn Korean for when I come to Korea and meet the rest of the family, as they might not be as accepting for Rory to translate everything.
I have been trying for the last six months to be at least a little conversational in Korean. Unfortunately I am not going to be able to understand a lot. I find that Korean is difficult to hear because of all the formal endings attached to everything. The ‘aiyos’ and ‘imnidas’ mask the root words and so I have to try very hard to hear what few words I might recognize. I hope that they are a little impressed with what I’ve learned and maybe being in Korea will help me too.
The ceremonies will require me to dress formally, bow in unison with Rory in front of each person, say a phrase that I have yet to learn and present gifts. I will be spending a good amount of time on my knees, nodding in feigned understanding and most likely looking to Rory to translate. I hope hope hope that they respond to me similarly to Rory’s mom. Even though we can hardly speak, she seems to like me a lot.
Some of the Gifts we will be presenting:
And then there are Rory’s friends. I actually look forward to meeting some young, fun Koreans as I expect they will understand English even if they are uncomfortable speaking it. I look forward to going out for Korean BBQ and eating great kimchi. I look forward to exploring the city again, even though it will be cold. I look forward to spending time with Rory visiting the old Korean house where we will be married in May as well as checking out the hotels and places we will recommend to our guests. I look forward to cold weather (and maybe snow) after living in a desert for 2 years. I am just nervous about meeting the family.
Wish us luck!
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The first of a long list of strange Korean food posts belongs to Beondegi 번데기, which is silkworm larvae. I’ve seen it in this soupy form but I think it can also be eaten in a more dry, crunchy state. (update: see pic below) It is a favorite amongst Korean school children who buy them by the cup-full on busy street corners. I’ve tried it. Can’t say I enjoyed it.
In Korea marriage isn’t just between a couple, it is also the marriage of two families. Yai mul is how you call all the wedding presents that are exchanged between the two families. Jamie and I are going to go look for some diamond jewelery today that we will give to my mom when we visit in December. Normally this would go into the Ham 함, the wedding chest that the groom presents the bride’s family. It is also filled with fine silks (예단) that the wedding party uses for the wedding day and a formal letter that states the groom’s family’s acceptance of the bride into their family.
We are breaking a little with the tradition by giving my mom the jewelery ahead of time. Normally it is a pearl set, a diamond set and a watch given for the father. These are normally all presented just before the wedding but for convenience we will give them a bit separately.
The actual Korean word for marriage when referring to a girl is Shi jip Kan Da (시집간다). This literally means ‘going to the groom’s house and becoming their family’. This is why the groom’s family presents such lavish gifts. It is in thanks to my parents for raising me to be such a great wife to Jamie :p
We’ll be sure to share pictures when we get back from the Gold and Diamond park.