One reason I enjoy my friend Peter’s company is that we both have a rather geeky, quasi-philological approach to the Korean language. This is not necessarily the best approach to language learning, but it is what it is.
Our neighbor Jeri brought by some home-made kimchi that had been given to her by another friend of hers. Just imagine: Alaska-made kimchi – such is globalization. To taste-test the kimchi, I broke out my stash of Korean style spicy ramen, of the famous brand 신라면 [sinramyeon]. As Peter and I ate kimchi with spicy instant ramen for lunch, we ended up speculating on the Chinese character, 辛, prominently displayed as the brand mark for the product, as in this picture below.
We both assumed it meant “new” – the most common stand-alone meaning for the Korean syllable 신 [sin]. I also speculated it might be a family name. But neither of those are the case. After a bit of searching on the online naver.com dictionary (the best online Korean dictionary) we found that in fact the definition is given as follows:
Since coming back from Australia I’ve developed a little mini-tradition of making Chilean style chupe de pescado (spicy fish chowder) every Sunday. I use the less perfect pieces of frozen salmon Arthur has. Partly, it’s one of the few dishes that I cook well that he seems to consider “acceptable.”
I love to make curries, but Arthur doesn’t like those, and he considers mole poblano to be a sacrilege against chocolate. I haven’t tried making borshch, but when I described it to him he was not at all impressed by the concept. I made fried rice once, but he didn’t seem to like it much either. So these things I’d have to make on my own without hope of patronage. That, of course, lowers the incentive to make them.
I took a walk this afternoon. This time I went west. I found the big chocolate factory. There is a street behind the factory called Chocolate Avenue (sign at right in picture – the big white building is the chocolate factory).
Now I understand why Arthur likes to visit his brother in Montrose.
Some other pictures.
Call this daily tree #2.
Tomorrow, Arthur and I drive northwest. It looks like we’re not going to meet Arthur’s friends in Reno, so we’ll be heading straight for Portland. Our holiday adventure is coming to a close. We’ll have a bit over a week in Portland and then we return to Alaska.
I went to Madison with my friend Bob. He had to do a radio interview, related to publicizing his upcoming concert which he is conducting.
While he was in the radio station doing his interview, I had some time to kill walking around Madison. I have never lived in Madison, but I have spent a lot of time here over there years, because it’s where my sister went to grad school, and where several friends also went to grad school, and of course now, where my friend Bob teaches and conducts music.
I took this picture looking up State Street, which connects the state capitol building (in the distance) with the university campus (behind me).
My friend Doug has long described Madison as “Disneyland for college students” and that seems an accurate moniker. It’s everything you want in a college town.
Madison occupies a striking isthmus between two lakes. So a few blocks north of State Street you’re on the shores of Lake Mendota.
Later, after his interview, Bob and I met with Martin, who is the son of my friends Mark and Amy who I just finished visiting up in Eagan, Minnesota. Martin works in downtown Madison, so it was easy for him to get away from work and have lunch.
I found a place selling poke. Poke (/poʊˈkeɪ/) is a bit like a Hawaiian version of 비빔밥 (bibimbap) or 볶음밥 (bokkeumbap). You mix rice with various toppings, including raw or cooked fish, veggies, and sauces. I had one with very hot sauce and raw tuna and tofu. It was delicious.
Here is a selfie of me, Martin and Bob at the poke joint.
Later, I took a long walk to a nature reserve north of Bob and Sarah’s house. I went past the photogenic Whitewater water tower.
Last night, using leftovers from the previous night, I made a chopped roast hash with potatoes and stuff, and we used the jar of chili sauce that Juli had sent with me to gift to Mark and Amy as garnish. It was pretty good.
Today, I didn’t do a lot. It was one of those “days off” that is part of this cross-country misadventure.
One thing: Mark has his parents old RV in an outdoor storage (guarded parking) location. We went to check on it, and the battery was dead. We got very cold taking out the battery.
I went to visit the craft brewery owned by my brother-in-law. It’s pretty interesting that he has this business. I tasted a few of the beers he makes there, and I bought a case of porter which I might give away as gifts or drink at some point.
Here is a picture of Wendy, me and Eric at the brewery, called Liquid Mechanics.
Later, I had dinner with my sister Brenda and her two kids (well one – Sarah wasn’t joining for dinner) at their house. It was nice talking to my sister.
I made chupe de pescado. This is a South American dish, a type of fish chowder. I had it frequently in Chile, and later I had it often at a Peruvian restaurant in Newport Beach, California, when I was working there one year. So I made some. I thought it came out pretty good, given my own handicapped taste-buds.
Here is the picture after everything is made.
Here is my serving for dinner.
Arthur pronounced it "acceptable" – which is praise, in his language. Wayne liked it too.
Here is my recipe, adapted from various found online.
Mi receta de chupe de pescado blanco al estilo alasquense:
6 patatas 2 cebollas picadas 1 zanahoria rallada 1 cucharada de pimentón dulce ½ cucharadita de orégano 4 cucharadas de mantequilla 2 tazas de pan rallado 3 tazas de leche o leche y crema mixtas 1 taza y media de caldo ajo picado al gusto sal al gusto pimienta al gusto ½ kg de pez blanco (eg hipogloso)
PREPARACIÓN DE LA RECETA
En primer lugar, pelamos y cortamos las 6 patatas en trozos y las ponemos a cocer en agua salada. Reservamos.
Salteamos en mantequilla las cebollas en un cazo con el pimentón dulce, orégano y zanahoria hasta que las cebollas estén tiernas.
Añadimos 2 tazas de pan rallado, las tres tazas de leche, la taza y media de caldo y agua a partes iguales, sal y pimienta al gusto, el pescado.
Añadimos también las patatas, tapamos todo y lo dejamos a fuego lento hasta que el pescado esté hecho, aproximadamente de 5 a 8 minutos.
El chupe deberá quedar tan espeso como una bechamel, pero si no nos gusta tan espeso, podemos añadir un poco más de leche.
When I lived in Valdivia, Chile, in 1994, I stayed at a guesthouse (casa de huéspedes) while I took classes at the Universidad Austral, which was a kilometer walk across the river on the island. That was a very cold several months, living there, because it was the Chilean winter, August-October, and the Chileans don't believe in any kind of central heating, and the guesthouse wouldn't allow electric space-heaters in our rooms.
It only snowed once, but it was always hovering right above freezing, with neverending drizzle and rain and overcast skies. So I would huddle in the guesthouse's dining room, by a wood stove there, when it was lit. The landlady's cooking was a unique style in my experience. She was German-Chilean, but several generations removed from Germany. I have no idea what to call her cuisine. What was memorable were the single-dish meals she served, made of pasta or rice, always with some kind of tomato-based sauce, sometimes with meat, generally with beans, and always with a fried egg or two on top, which I would mash into the concoction before eating. It wasn't particularly delicious, but it was always reliable and filling. I don't know if this cooking style is common in Chilean homes, or even, specifically, southern Chilean or German-Chilean traditions, or if it was more idiosyncratic to that guesthouse's landlady. I did experience something similar at a hotel restaurant in Punta Arenas, but with ñoquis (gnocchi), possibly due to the strong Argentinian influence down there (Punta Arenas is only connected to the rest of Chile by road via Argentina), as I think of ñoquis as being very characteristically Argentinian.
Sometimes, in the years since, I have made various half-hearted efforts to recreate what I think of "Chilean tomato glop with egg". The other day, I can proudly say, I came as close as I ever have to recreating the look and feel of the original. I was finishing off a batch of rice, using a fresh tomato and onion and some leftover chopped ham, I added in half a can of Mexican canned beans (yes, you can buy that in Korea) and two poached eggs. I can't comment on the taste aspect, given the radical transformations my taste-buds have undergone in the intervening years. But anyway, I was happy with having accomplished it. So I took a picture.
Last night in my PM1-M cohort CC class (cloze listening of pop songs), I felt like I was living in some kind of Lord of the Flies rendition of hagwon life.
You see, this one boy, Eric, was opening a packet of snack ramen. The kids eat the dried ramen noodles dry, sort like potato chips, with the flavor packets opened and sprinkled over the broken up noodles. What they do is they open the packet enough to get out the flavor packet, which they extract and add into the noodle package. Then they hold the noodle package closed and mash up the noodles inside, so they're all tiny fragments and the flavor granules are distributed. It's like do-it-yourself Doritos, maybe.
So Eric had done this work. And then he tore open his now mashed up and flavored pack of dried noodles eagerly, with a plan to eat his snack. Normally I'm pretty tolerant of kids eating snacks in my class, despite an official rule against it, because I know the whole business of attending night class for elementary age students means sometimes they are hungry and haven't eaten since an after-school snack or something.
The other boys (the cohort is currently all boys, just by luck of the draw) were eyeing his snack jealously and hungrily. Unfortunately, Eric opened his packet too aggressively. The noodle fragments, stained orange by the spicy flavor granules, flew all over the room, landing on desks, chairs, floor, and even in Eric's hair. The boy sat with a stunned and despondant look on his face.
But the worst was when the other boys, seeing their chance, swooped in and began grabbing up all the scattered noodle fragments. They didn't seem to care that the bits were on the floor, chairs and desks. They ate them. In less than a minute, most of the bits were gone. Even the ones in Eric's hair. While Eric still just sat, looking stunned.
I said, "Really? Really? You guys are eating off the floor? It's like a pack of dogs!"
In fact, I wasn't that scandalized – I could barely contain my laughing. But given my in loco parentis role (more loco than parentis, perhaps), I felt obligated to be upset by the performance.
Anyway, we got it cleaned up. It took up about half the class time, though. I guess the boys were not annoyed by this.
Quite unrelatedly, what I'm listening to right now.
Sticks & Big2, "Waar Wacht Je Op?!" Don't ask me why. I just listen to weird things, sometimes. Why not a little bit of Dutch hiphop?
[Intro: Sticks] Waar wacht je op? Waar wacht je op? Waar wacht je op? Sticky Steez!
[Intro: Big2] Hé Sticks, go get 'em!
[Verse 1: Sticks] Je krijgt deez nuts, Dries van Noten Breek het open, pistachenoten Een piece of mind en een piece van mij Voor de fun en fuck de police d'r bij Nou als ik niet beweeg, breng ik niets te weeg En wat zijn mijn woorden waard als ik ze niet meer weeg? Ik deel mijn lief en leed, en het gaat fucking flex Maar men ziet liever leed en beef-dvd's Ik ga next-level, van rap battles naar HMH Ga aan de kant Jett Rebel en Chef's Special En Kensington en Go Back To The Zoo En hoe lauwer de beat, hoe gekker je doet Ambitie maakt dat ik move met m'n shit Ambitie maakt dat jij grooved op die shit 'T is hard werken om je vrijheid te behouden Maar de up-side: het kan allemaal van jou zijn Nou waar wacht je op?
[Chorus: Sticks & Big2] Get loose met je poes, als ik dit niet doe zijn we helemaal floes (Waar wacht je op?) En iedereen doet mee, met de Sticky Steez en de Biggie 2 (Waar wacht je op?) Geen plan, gewoon gaan, de leeuw laat je echt niet in zijn hempie staan (Waar wacht je op?) En de beat goes on (Lachen toch?) En de beat goes, on (Waar wacht je op?) Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt, het is aan jou… Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt, het is aan jou… Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt
[Verse 2: Sticks] Nou als het moet, bos ik op bam bam ritmes Chaka Demus & en de Pliers in een 5-0-1 levi's Met een witte Air Max, met een pipi' achter mijn oor Geeft niks, het is the latest greatest Nadenken is de vijand van vrijheid Check deze Twan, volgens mij zijn we highlights Daar moest je bij zijn, anderen willen dat me zijn maar zijn te klein als Royce da 5'9 Voor de clubs ben ik te nuchter, lever de track af, breek de tent af Zoek rust midden in de drukte Heel het leven is een trip beter stap je in (Waar wacht je op?) Record wat, breng het uit de dag erop Deel de hele taart uit, zet er slagroom op Er is genoeg voor ieder, er is genoeg voor ieder Waar wacht je op?
[Chorus: Sticks & Big2] Get loose met je poes, als ik dit niet doe zijn we helemaal floes (Waar wacht je op?) En iedereen doet mee, met de Sticky Steez en de Biggie 2 (Waar wacht je op?) Geen plan, gewoon gaan, de leeuw laat je echt niet in zijn hempie staan (Waar wacht je op?) En de beat goes on (Lachen toch?) En de beat goes, on (Waar wacht je op?) Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt, het is aan jou… Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt Het maakt niet uit wie wat zegt, het is aan jou…
If you have watched this blog over many long years, you know I happen to like pea soup.
My mother likes to cook sometimes, so when she asked if there was anything I was craving, I told her I hadn't made pea soup for myself in a long time. I think I just got lazy, after the cancer thing dulled my tasting ability, and I just haven't bothered in recent years, since everything I make that I crave ends up being a bit disappointing.
Anyway, we bought the ingredients and she made pea soup. In fact, I already knew it wasn't something she commonly made – I grew to like it after I was living on my own – it's not anything like a "nostalgia" dish from my childhood. But I was quite surprised when she announced, after we were eating it for dinner, that it was the first time she'd made pea soup.
Yesterday morning, I went into Seoul. I travel so rarely, these days, even to just go into the city for a half-day – it was the first time I've left Ilsan since returning from my North American odyssey last November.
My friend Peter is on the Peninsula, now that he's a grad student specializing in Korean Studies, he has reasons to come back to visit, and apparently he managed to make it quite affordable. We met in that area around Dongdaemun that I have always called "Russiatown" – it's one of my favorite neighborhoods in Seoul, with much of the same "international" or cosmopolitan feel of, say Itaewon, but without the pretentiousness or gentrification, and fewer "fratboy" tourists, as the US soldier-on-leave crowd in Itaewon always seems to come off as. Nevertheless, I would say that "Russiatown" seems a bit gentrified, lately, too.
Anyway, my old standby, the Russian restaurant of the ever-changing name but fairly constant menu, was still there. Peter pointed out that it was in Russiatown in 2009 that we met for the very first time. I don't think I blogged that particular trip to Russiatown – I went rather frequently back in that era. Anyway, Peter and I had lunch at the restaurant, and then met a friend of his (colleague also enrolled in the same graduate program at Johns Hopkins, apparently) and went to Hongdae briefly, where I got to visit the Korean Language hagwon where Peter studied last year some. Peter is trying to persuade me, I think, to get more serious about my own regrettable progress in the language. Certainly I feel jealous of his amazing competence in the language relative to my own.
Then I went to work, taking the Gyeongui line subway route that follows the old railroad mainline to Ilsan Station. The line is several years old, now, but it still doesn't form part of my default mental map of how to get around.
Here are some pictures. I think Russiatown looks much more prosperous than it did 5 or 8 years ago. Still, there is much Cyrillic signage – not just in Russian but other central Asian languages typically written in Cyrillic, such as Mongolian, Uzbek, Kazakh and others. As I chatted with Peter, I coined a new name for the neighborhood: "Stanville." This reflects the Central Asian character as opposed to strictly Russian (all the "-stans" of the former Soviet sphere).
I have had cravings for oatmeal (just the regular old oatmeal in a quaker oats can, or those instant oatmeal packets that abound in the US) for a very long time. But unlike almost any other product imaginable, I have had difficulty running across it. I don't even recall seeing it at Costco or at the foreigner's grocery at Itaewon. I really want some variety in my porridgey foods, rather than just Korean 죽 and 누룽지, which are both rice-based.
Finally, the other day at HomePlus, I noticed this on the TESCO "foreign foods" shelf (the British TESCO is an international partner for HomePlus): "Scottish Oats" (at right).
I bought some, and had some. I am happy for the variety.
As many know, I still have some issues eating "normally." Aside from the fact that I don't have much sense of taste, which means that food just isn't as interesting as it used to be, I also have some issues around the fact that major portions of my tongue lack a sense of touch – it's permanently numb, like it will get after a visit to the dentist when local anaesthetic is used.
This creates eating problems because it's surprising the extent to which we rely on our tongues to manipulate food in our mouths during the process of chewing and moving the food to the back of our mouths in preparation to swallow it. I can't always do this as easily or as successfully as I might hope. That is why my favorite foods now are the sort of soupy or sloppy things, pasta with sauces, soups, porridge, etc., that are "swallowable" without too much tongue movement.
A month or so ago I bought a can of olives, because I like to chop them into my pastas sometimes. But I made a mistake – they were unpitted olives. I nearly threw them out, but in fact, I do like olives, and I can still enjoy the bitter/salty flavor of them somewhat.
So I decided to try eating them.
Things with seeds or pits or bones that end up in my mouth are things I normally dread – if you think about the gymnastics you do with your tongue when you find a watermelon seed or a fish bone, you will understand what I mean.
But sitting at home, I would nibble around my olives and eventually I got brave and, looking at it as a kind of physical therapy, I would try to eat the olive and spit out the pit, in the "normal" way.
It's kind of like forcing myself to do exercise that is unpleasant but hopefully good for me. I have this idea that I can build up my tongue coordination through diligence and practice.
So I sit at my desk in the late mornings, with a bowl of unpitted olives, and exercise my tongue.
It gets sore, on the tip, where there are still some nerve endings (which is what the doctors so miraculously saved, and which is why I am not handicapped in talking, for the most part, despite the loss of nerves in most of my tongue).
I don't get very ambitious with my cooking, much, these days.
Mostly, every time I buy some food item or attempt to cook some food item, out of craving or whatever, I am inevitably disappointed. Eating just isn't fun – not even the the easiest-to-eat foods, like omelettes or noodle soup (국수) or rice porridge (죽) – at best, they are utilitarian and serve the purpose of providing me with sustenance with minimal discomfort.
So mostly I just don't bother. I have my instant soup mixes and my pasta and my eggs, and I prepare them always the same way and with the least effort required, because putting in extra effort or attention to detail offers no noticeable improvement in quality-of-experience.
Last night I was feeling nostalgic. I had run into a former student, Eunjin, on the street the other day, and she shocked me by running up to me and hugging me (note that Koreans are not, normally, notable for effusiveness in this manner). She is in high school now but she had always been a remarkably motivated student in the years I taught her. She told me she hated English now because of how it is taught in high school, but she missed my classes. That was flattering, I guess.
Then my former coworker Ken stopped by work last night. He's left the English teaching biz and is working for Samsung in some businessman-type functionality. This is probably good for his bank account and his ambition, but may be contrary to his core inclinations. Anyway, although I don't think of him that often, in seeing him I realized I missed the constant dialogue and banter I'd had with him during our years working together.
Anyway, I was feeling nostalgic, and when I get nostalgic, I sometimes find myself cooking, for no good reason whatsoever.
I made pea soup. It wasn't exceptionally fun to eat, but the act of making it was enjoyable, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes I get weird food cravings. I have moved in the direction of ignoring them, because every time I go to satisfy one of those food cravings, I'm deeply disappointed. My food memory is intact, but my actual taste and "mouth-feel" mechanisms are essentially permanently rearranged since my surgery.
Today, for whatever strange reason, I found myself remembering and craving the birria that I used to buy as a lunchtime snack at one of the puestos on San Cosme (in front of the subway station) where I lived in Mexico City. I suppose that birria (a kind of goat-meat soup or stew – which it is depends on consistency, and the kind I got was always more brothy than stewy) would be hard to come by in Korea in any event. So it's just as well that I mostly let these cravings just pass by. But it's a fond memory in any event.
Here's to birria - the picture is a random picture found online that matches what I used to get pretty closely.
It's strange… the random stuff that pops into one's mind.
Yesterday, after work, I went into the city and ended up meeting Basil and Peter. We went to Russiatown and to a restaurant called Samarkand (after the Uzbek city) and I had some good Borsht and a kind of Baltica (Russian beer) I had never had before, cloudy with a strong yeast flavor. I also spent more money at the bookstore prior to that.
Today I was tired and did very little. The weather has changed. . . it has become much cooler and the air reeks of Siberia.
It was almost the case that nothing happened on Sunday. That’s probably the way I prefer it.
But it happened that my friend Nate, now formerly of the US Army, is around and we ended up going to dinner at my favorite Russian place near Dongdaemun – I was craving borscht. It was good…. Nate is an excellent conversationalist and, I suspect, a soon-to-be-famous writer – he already has some excellent non-fiction online.