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Like the Cat That Got the Cream

Koreabridge - Wed, 2016-06-29 04:35
Like the Cat That Got the Cream

“Where have you been?” everyone keeps asking. Last week, before I could fully wake up enough to call my mother for her birthday, a message came through from her that she was in the hospital again and would have to turn her phone off. Some more translation and other kinds of work has come through, and there is even more silhouetted on the horizon. I’m writing. I’m still trying to get my insane potter in hand — even if I sit perfectly still working for six hours, he still looks disappointed in me when I say I really — I mean it this time — have to go now. But he’s teaching me a lot, about onggi and the history of Korean pottery, traditional glazes, which I started this week, Lee Kang-hyo, who reminds me of Jackson Pollock. He’s always digging up documentaries with English subtitles for me to watch and scribbling down terms in Korean. He asked me last week if what he does is called “pottery” in English.

Last night, we got a phone call at an uncharacteristically late hour, which could change a lot of things. I put the macchinetta on before B’d even hung up, because I could tell we’d be up late talking. B’s going down to Busan to handle some stuff this weekend, and we will know more once he returns, probably with his brother in tow, possibly (but improbably) also with his mother. For now, I’ve got to prepare the house a little, find and buy a good yo (Korean floor mattress). B’s worried but somehow also excited about a little fantasy he’s dreamed up about his brother helping me with some work. He’s calling himself our “angel investor” for a business that doesn’t even exist. He’s weighing in either hand the pros and cons of two different very good new jobs he’s got to choose between. One of them, in combination with whatever happens this weekend, could mean life will be propelled forward a bit more quickly than we expected in the next few months.

Vague, I know, but it’s easier not to explain it all until I know exactly what I’m explaining.

In the meantime, I’m swallowing books whole. It’s some kind of residual summer reading instinct that still kicks in. I’ve made a Bible of Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson, which has completely rid me, in a matter of months, of poor bread-making practices I’ve been struggling to work out for decades. Highly recommend it. In a more leisurely realm, Mary McCarthy’s The Company She Keeps is keeping me on my toes with turns of phrase and simply stated observations that contain entire worlds in half sentences.

Food-wise, Korea’s run out of domestic cream and butter, causing crises in franchise bakeries across the country. Cows don’t like hot, humid weather for milk production, and, with the combined influence of new cooking shows that promote Western-style dishes, which include more dairy, domestic production can’t keep up. I was lucky enough to get my hands on two whole pints of cream this week, and I’ve been scheming about how to best put them to use. I still have some recipes from weeks ago I haven’t posted yet, as well, so I’ll try to get some of that done this week.

I had expected to be making an announcement this week, but with the current family crisis and an inflow of more freelance work than I expected to have, that’s been delayed. Hopefully soon. Right now, we don’t know what to expect, and it may end up being best for me to pursue more higher paying work for a while. Also, I seem to have overcome a months’ long writer’s block, and I’ve got to take advantage of that while I can. I’ll be back on form soon. In the meantime, I wish you all cool summer nights, an umbrella always on hand for the summer rains and the good luck to find cream when you need it. Summer’s not the same without it.

The post Like the Cat That Got the Cream appeared first on Follow the River North.

Follow the River North

Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.

Books & Stuff    Cafés & Shops     Korean Food & Ingredients      Personal     Recipes       Restaurants & Bars

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Creatively Creating Cinemagraphs

Koreabridge - Wed, 2016-06-29 02:04
Creatively Creating Cinemagraphs

With the recent launch of my Cinemagraph Pro Tutorial course, I pushed myself think of new ways to make cinemagraphs that stood out. I love taking landscapes and turing them into cinemagraphs. I think that is what sort of put me on the map with regards to this new form of expression. However, that may not appeal to everyone and thus, I had to really get to work and try and find new cinemagraphs to make in order to really get the word out.

The Ramyeon Cinemagraph

This one really took some time. I am not a food photographer but I do love and have to take food shots from time to time. This one I used a similar technique to that of the Death Wish Coffee project that I did a little while ago. However, I really wanted to focus on the steam and that proved to be a bit of a challenge. Not only did it not steam up enough, the noodles cooled too fast. I ended up using a kettle of hot water to heat things up. However, in the end I got the shot and the loop that I wanted.

Use Adobe Spark

I always loved the style and look of those instagram-like ads. The ones that combined a beautiful font and a creative photo. I could do the photo part, but I could never get the font or the design just right. Now that adobe spark has arrived, I can make cinemagraphs that have this look and feel. In a later tutorial, I will show you how to add this to your cinemagraphs.

The Cafe Cinemagraph

Finally, I had a blast creating this one. I had first seen this kind of cinemagraph used for some awesome travel stuff and I wanted to give a subtle hint about my courses. So I went to a local coffee shop here in Ulsan and got to work. Again, it was a challenge working in such an open environment. However, I just plugged away and made a few cool cinemagraphs. Here I am just using the subtle motion of the book to draw attention into the cinemagraph.


If you would like to learn how to make cinemagraphs like this then head on over to my tutorials page and sign up for the cinamagraph pro tutorial now.

The Complete CInemagraph Pro Tutorial

The post Creatively Creating Cinemagraphs appeared first on The Sajin.


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Top 15 Things to Buy in Bangkok, Thailand.

Koreabridge - Tue, 2016-06-28 08:20
Top 15 Things to Buy in Bangkok, Thailand.

Nothing is ever more fun than buying things that you can get only in that country when travelling. Thailand is no exception when it comes to buying high quality products at cheap prices. Besides the cheap summery shirts and fisherman pants, here is the ultimate list of things (goods & food) you must get in Bangkok.

GOODS1. Fruit Soap

You can find all kinds of fruit soaps at Chatuchak Market (a weekend market in Bangkok) with Mango soap being one of the most popular ones. They only cost around $1 each!

2. Inhaler (Ya Dom in Thai)

Thai people are known for their frequent use of nasal inhaler which is also best for those who have rhinitis. The two most famous brands are Poy Sian and Peppermint field.

3. Thai Silk

Thailand is renowned for beautiful silks and fabrics. Make sure you drop by the famous Jim Thompson house for their high quality silk products. High recommended as souvenirs such as table runners and pouches that come in bright colors and patterns for family and friends.

4. NaRaYa Bag

NaRaYa is a famous local brand that offers high quality fabric hand-made bags and pouches. They come in all kinds of colors and designs and their most flagship design is the silk bag with a big ribbon attached in the middle. You can find NaRaYa stores in Bangkok’s major shopping malls.

5. Spa & aroma products

You can’t leave all kinds of spa products & oranaments when you think of what to buy in Thailand. Karmakamet is famous for its high quality aroma and body products. It’s not cheap but the quality is guaranteed. Bath & Bloom is another shop where you can get aromatic bath & spa products. One of the highly recommended scent is the unique Thai Jasmine which will relieve your knots and stress.

6. Takabb Anti Cough Pill

It’s a nation-widely known remedy for coughing. It’s rumored to have the worst taste but the strongest effect that immediately makes you stop from coughing. The package design itself isn’t at its best with some kind of red earthworms all over the place but you might want to buy one to try out.

7. Coconut oil

In the “motherland” of oil, coconut oil is used everywhere from facial mositurizing, hair enrichment to hand & foot care. Not only that, some even drop coconut oil in their morning tea or coffee for better taste. There are several Thai brands that you can look out for such as Agrilife and Thaipure.

8. Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder

Because of the tropical climate, Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder is a must-item for the locals. Apply some on your body after shower and enjoy the cooling effect.

9. Mosquito Repellent

One might always be wary of the mosquitoes when you visit tropical countries, and Thailand is no exception when you think of insects and mosquito bites. And because of the naturally exposed environment, Thailand is known for offering various options in terms of mosquito repellent. It will come in handy when you visit other tropical regions. You can easily find various brands in local drugstores or supermarkets.

10. Tiger Balm

It’s the ultimate solution to all the pains on your body. It’s said to provide instant relief.

FOOD11. Fruit Snacks

You can’t leave out fruit snacks when you visit Bangkok. Kunna is one of the highly acclaimed brand for its different kinds of fruit snacks. Available in major stores and markets, try the original and yet exotic fruit snacks!

12. Coffee

Add drip coffee to your shopping list in Bangkok. DoiTung and Doi Chang are two of the famous local brands that offer premium coffee at yes affordable price.

13. Chewy Milk Candy

Yes the chewy milk candy that comes in all kinds of flavors from corn, watermelon, strawberry, chocolate and apple. Pick a type according to your taste.

14. Mama Instant Noodle

If you’re an instant noodle lover, Tom Yum flavored noodles from Mama are a must buy. Packaged in small plastic bags, they are light enough to fit your suitcase.

15. Crispy Seaweed

Often called the snack king of Thailand, Tao Kae Noi‘s crispy seaweed is eaten like potato chips in Thailand. This snack also comes in various flavors from curry crab, coconut to grilled squid.

Aren’t you excited just by looking at all the food and things that you can buy in Bangkok?

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The Comfort Women Deal Six Months On – Where’s the Korean Backlash?

Koreabridge - Mon, 2016-06-27 23:54
The Comfort Women Deal Six Months On – Where’s the Korean Backlash?

The following is an op-ed I published in last week’s Newsweek Japan, where I write once a month. My editor asked me to write about how the comfort women deal of last year is getting on, and I have to say that I am surprised just how little we even hear about it anymore. For an issue that the Korean media often treated as central to South Korean identity, it seems to have inexplicably dropped out of the newspapers (which, I strongly suspect, displays how much the Korean government ‘directs’ the media here.)

So the main argument I make advances the one I made a few months ago: that if the Korean left does not fight back against the deal, then the deal achieves a level of national consensus it did not have initially when it was clinched in secret by a conservative government. And now that the left has surprisingly taken the majority in the parliament, this is the first and most important acid test for the deal. If the left doesn’t use its newfound power to go after the deal, then they are tacitly approving it.

Of course, no one in Korea will proactively say that they support the deal, but not acting is a way acting too. If the left, which has done so much to create this issue, does not re-politicize it, then that basically mean a broad, however unspoken, left-right consensus has emerged to take the deal and let the issue slowly disappear. The activist groups and leftist intellectuals, many of whom seem to have built their careers around the comfort women, will never give up. But without political representation, they are just one more voice in South Korea’s cacophonous civil society.

I have to say that I am really surprised that events are running this way. Just about every Korean I know gets really indignant and emotional at the mention of this issue. Yet the political class has dropped like a hot potato. So all these years of sturm und drang are over, just like that? Really? Still not sure why this has happened – American pressure? it was all just an act? everyone is truly terrified of NK and wants Japanese solidarity?

The full essay follows the jump.


In December 2015, the administrations of Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo surprised almost everyone by “finally and irreversibly” settling the comfort women issue that had long-plagued Japan-Korea relations. Tokyo is to pay ¥1 billion to several Korean women coerced or lured into sexual slavery during the Japanese colonial period (long maintained by Korea as coordinated and sanctioned by official channels), and in return the South Korean government is to drop the issue and not pursue future claims. Though many interpreted the deal as a new beginning, virtually no part of it has moved forward. Park has seemingly stalled, and Abe has not pressed. A new left-wing majority entered the Korean legislature this past spring, leaving many to questioning whether the deal will survive, given the left’s history of comfort women advocacy. So far, though, it remains.

North Korea – the Real Reason for the Deal

North Korea is a central reason. Its aggressive behavior this year drowned out any controversy over the deal and illustrates the geopolitical pressures behind the deal. The two Koreas are experiencing levels of hostility not seen since a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan in early 2010. In the months since the comfort women deal was signed, Pyongyang has conducted its fourth nuclear test, launched several missiles, shuttered the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and organized a much-hyped Workers’ Party Congress, the first in 36 years. Both Japan and Korea have shown newfound pragmatism regarding their shared security threat, and have seemingly put ancillary issues, such as the comfort women deal, on the backburner.

This apparent reprioritization can been seen in the behavior of the Park Administration, which has mothballed two committees explicitly designed to explore the comfort women issue in depth. Established in 2013 and 2015 respectively, each task force was to produce a white paper that was to guide policy discussion regarding the comfort women. Their reports, due last December, were unexpectedly shelved. Both committees remain in hiatus.

Still Not Popular Though

Nevertheless, key provisions of the deal have yet to materialize, perhaps in response to the deal’s unpopularity in Korea. No mechanism has yet been set up for the Japanese government to deposit the promised ¥1 billion to the surviving comfort women themselves. A statue of a comfort woman in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, possibly a harassment violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomacy, was also to be moved as part of the deal (and in fact, Tokyo may choose not to deposit any money if that statute remains).

The victory of the left in this spring’s parliamentary elections opens the possibility that the issue will be revisited. The left historically oscillates from skepticism to unabashed hostility towards Japan, with some going as far to argue that Tokyo, not Pyongyang, is South Korea’s greatest enemy. The comfort women issue has long been a rallying cry for both real and imagined hardships endured by Koreans during the Japanese colonization period of 1910 to 1945.

The main opposition Minjoo Party, along with the left-of-center Kookmin Party, could certainly push through legislation amending, obstructing, or even dismantling the deal itself. It remains, after all, unpopular among the Korean electorate. President Park’s approval ratings are low, and a looming presidential election next year suggests the time is ripe for political opportunism.

Silence Indicates Approval?

The National Assembly has yet to do much of anything since the April 13th elections. Members have been squabbling over speaker and committee positions, missing their June 7th deadline. This fails to explain however why members of the left have not utilized unofficial channels to voice their discontent.

Silence on the issue can be telling. No elected opposition members have spoken out since the election. The most influential person, other than President Park, to comment on the comfort women deal is the Minjoo Party’s interim chairman Kim Chong In. He has in fact come out in favor of it, expressing a desire to close the book on a decades-long issue that has handicapped relations between the two countries.

The comfort women deal remains in flux. Park no longer enjoys a majority in the legislature and will struggle to pass anything. That calls into question whether or not she can establish the necessary mechanisms for Tokyo to deposit the promised funds, move the statue, or even fend off possible amendments or impediments to the deal itself. However, the left’s silence on the issue signals a tacit acceptance that moving on is perhaps the best decision for both countries. If the left does not move on the issue by the end of the year, that will imply a national consensus, however grudging, to respect the deal.

Filed under: Comfort Women, Domestic Politics, Japan, Korea (South)

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University


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Dear Korea #144: Hold the Door

Koreabridge - Mon, 2016-06-27 15:01
Dear Korea #144: Hold the Door


It’s been a busy and weird few weeks, but here’s a new comic! The concept for this one was given to me by the one and only Roboseyo. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier. Even after almost six years, those doors that don’t open still don’t make much sense to me.

Speaking of really cool blog people, I was recently featured in a podcast! The really nice guys over at Café Seoul invited me to talk on their entertaining show when I went up to Seoul for the event I was advertising last time at High Street Market (thank you to everyone that came, btw). If you want to give it a listen, click here.

See you next time!

Jen Lee's Dear Korea

This is Jen Lee. She likes to draw.
She also likes green tea.

Got any questions, comments, or maybe even some delicious cookies you want to send through the internet? Feel free to contact us at dearkoreacomic at gmail dot com.

You can also leave comments on the comic’s Facebook Page!


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Live Podcast Recording At Seoul Book & Culture Club

Koreabridge - Tue, 2016-06-21 13:29
Live Podcast Recording At Seoul Book & Culture Club

Barry Welsh’s Seoul Book & Culture Club recently hosted a live podcast recording featuring KoreaFM.net podcast hosts. Marmot’s Hole blogger Robert Koehler, Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog writer Colin Marshall, notorious Facebook group Only in Korea creator Travis Hull & Korea FM founder Chance Dorland took the stage at the Seoul Global Cultural Center in Myeong-dong to discuss recent issues they’ve covered on Korea FM podcast episodes & answer questions from the audience. The entire event was recorded & can now be streamed or downloaded in audio podcast form.

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 Interview answers, both in written & audio form, have been edited for length & clarity.

If audio player does not load, listen to this episode by clicking here.

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The post Live Podcast Recording At Seoul Book & Culture Club appeared first on Korea FM.

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“The Curious Love-Hate Relationship between China and North Korea”

Koreabridge - Sat, 2016-06-18 05:54
“The Curious Love-Hate Relationship between China and North Korea”



The following is a re-up of my monthly post for the Lowy Interpreter for June. The original is here.

The fissure between North Korea and China is widely noted, and Kim Jong Il supposedly told Madeleine Albright when she visited Pyongyang in 2000 that he’d rather have a deal with the US than with China.

That’s somewhat understandable actually. The US is too far away, both geographically and culturally to really dominate North Korea if the two managed to strike a deal. But dealing with China – right next door, bullying, opportunistic – must be tough. There’s nothing Beijing would like more than for North Korea to be like East Germany: a completely dependent, completely controlled satellite. So the North Korean nuclear program is a great idea: even as North Korea becomes an economic semi-colony of China, the nukes can prevent the loss of political sovereignty.

The full essay follows the jump.



During the much-anticipated 7th North Korean Workers’ Party Congress last month, the first such gathering in thirty-six years, over one hundred foreign journalists were invited to Pyongyang to cover the event. Not surprisingly, they were treated with contempt: relentless surveillance, absolute restrictions on movement, and tightly-controlled access to the North Korean people themselves. Some insight did permeate through, however, namely dissatisfaction with China. That North Koreans were allowed to share their animosity towards Beijing suggests official approval of such feelings.

Though counterintuitive, experts have for some time been aware of the toxic relationship between the two countries, particularly in the years since Kim Jong Un assumed power in 2011. The very real understanding that the North would be crippled without Chinese political and economic maneuvering has grown increasingly troublesome for Pyongyang elites. The late Kim Jong Il himself supposedly divulged such reservations to former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during her visit to Pyongyang in 1999.

Not as Close as ‘Lips and Teeth’ Anymore

Cynically marketed by both as a blood alliance between two communist states, Chinese assistance to North Korea is instead almost entirely geopolitical in design and objective. Aid is funneled into sectors where China’s own needs lie: resource extraction and infrastructure development. The bilateral relationship, described by Mao Zedong himself to be as close as “lips and teeth,” is now dominated by the North’s heavy reliance on China. A Chinese aid cut-off would threaten internal Northern stability and severe its primary pipeline to the global economy. This leverage has grown as North Korea has fallen under ever-greater sanction.

Ensuring the continuation of the status quo on the Korean Peninsula ‘buffers’ China against South Korea and Japan, and their American ally. This is widely known. But there is a less often discussed an economic benefit too – Beijing’s creeping economic colonization of the North. There is virtually no competition for the Chinese, as multilateral sanctions have placed the cost of doing business with the Kim regime out of reach for most. And the bigger the benefit to China, the more likely Beijing will support development. Three high-speed railroads are under construction which would link northeast China to North Korean cities, providing valuable trade and economic avenues for an area that has lagged behind the rest of China (the border city of Dandong processes 80% of trade between the two countries and would be hub for the new rail lines). In order to pay for this, North Korea allegedly offered China exclusive development rights to seven major mines (Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un’s uncle and leading diplomat to Beijing, was supposedly executed in 2013 for these kinds of one-sided deals). Special economic zones (SEZ) and deep-water ports are no exception: they are built by the Chinese for the Chinese.

To be sure, China’s conduct with the North does not deviate far from its modus operandi in other developing countries. Whereas the Soviet Union leveraged its military to bring vassal states in line, China uses its massive economy to influence decision makers from Pyongyang to Phnom Penh. Nearly 80% of all firms in China are state-owned enterprises, and the banking sector is dominated by Beijing bureaucrats. This gives the state remarkable control in funneling money to states which support its geopolitical goals, or punish states which do not.

Pyongyang decision makers are well aware of this dynamic, a key reason why they have not (and will not) abandon their nuclear weapons. The bomb protects the regime’s political sovereignty, even as economic control is slowly lost to asymmetric economic dependence on China. Indeed, the recently-announced Five Year Plan, the first in decades, may indicate that Pyongyang wants to lighten that dependence by finally igniting some domestic GDP growth. And there have been rumors for years that North Korea seeks an accommodation with America in order to check the erosion of its sovereignty to China.

A North Korean Accommodation with the United States?? Desirable, but Unlikely

During the Cold War, North Korea guarded its sovereignty despite weakness by pendeling back and forth between China and the USSR. The USSR’s collapse left it with China alone as a patron, which obviously dramatically improved Chinese leverage. Conversely, the late 1990s famine showed what happens when North Korea lacks a sponsor and goes it alone. Better than choosing between China and famine would be a return to the good old days of two, competing patrons. And, curiously enough, the US is not a bad choice for Pyongyang:

First, North Korea is far less likely to be dominated economically by the US than China. The US does not have the leverage over North Korean enterprises the Chinese do. The Obama Administration cannot guarantee Amtrak railroads in the North, nor can it claim ownership over mines and ports. Assistance to the North would likely come in the form of cash or raw materials, allowing Pyongyang decision makers to apply it as they see fit. Any kind of entrepreneurial incursions into the country would be initiated by non-state actors, affording Pyongyang a level of control it no longer has with Chinese investors.

Secondly, political domination is also less likely, as the US and North Korea do not have the same historical and cultural legacy which China and Korea share. America is both geographically and culturally far removed from East Asia, and so far less likely to dominate it or bully Pyongyang, which behavior would also its domestic liberal ideology of self-determination. A North Korea no longer threatening the US would cease to interest policy-makers or the public much. Post-accommodation, most Americans just would not care enough about Korea to meddle as China does now. China is the opposite. It has a long history of intervention in Korea; it is right next door, creating obvious interests in how North Korea is governed; and its cynical, bullying domestic government style is apparent in its foreign policy. Its inclination is treat North Korea as a satellite.

Nevertheless, this is unlikely. US-North Korean relations are unlikely to improve so long as North Korea retains nuclear weapons. But that puts Pyongyang in a catch-22: keep the weapons and be stuck with creeping Chinese economic domination, or surrender them and hope for a US deal. Both are unpalatably risky, which I believe is the reason for the new Five Year Plan announced at last month’s Workers’ Party Congress. If North Korea can actually function economically on its own, then its need for China, or a US deal, would recede.

Filed under: Alliances, China, Hegemony, Korea (North)

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University


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The Chaebol: The 1997 IMF Financial Crisis and the Neoliberal Era (The Korea File)

Koreabridge - Thu, 2016-06-16 02:39
The Chaebol: The 1997 IMF Financial Crisis and the Neoliberal Era

Corporate stereotyping, the cult power of Chaebol leadership and the structural differences before and after the 1997 IMF financial crisis. This is part three of a conversation with Michael Prentice, a PhD Candidate in the University of Michigan’s Department of Anthropology, on South Korea's hugely influential Chaebol. 

Our fundraising campaign is live at https://www.patreon.com/thekoreafile?ty=h 
Every dollar you pledge supports independent journalism and helps keep this podcast on the air!

Prentice interned for a year at a Seoul-area company, conducting semi-covert academic research on the country's unique corporate culture. On this episode, he discusses Korean corporate security protocol and the complex relationship between Chaebol development and the narrative structure of Korean history. He also explains how he obtained his position as an undercover anthropologist. 

Music on this episode is 1972's '안개속의 여인' with Ji-Hyun on vocals and the legendary Shin Jung-hyun on guitar.

This episodes image is taken from

   The Korea File

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…and they’re off (-track Horse Racing at Walkerhill)

Koreabridge - Wed, 2016-06-15 14:59
…and they’re off (-track Horse Racing at Walkerhill)

I’m always on the hunt for something new and exciting to do on the weekends in Korea.  In Seoul, it’s been go, go, go with new and exciting opportunities popping up all over the place.  This past weekend was one of my most luxurious and exquisite weekends yet.  If you’re looking for a real Seoulcialite experience in Korea, read on…

As someone who used to work in the online gaming industry in Vancouver, where “Thoroughbred Day at the Races” is a major yearly event, you’d think I would have spent more time watching the ponies.  While I understand the logistics, odds, and mechanics of table games (and know that the slots are your worst odds in Vegas), horse racing was completely foreign to me.  What do a Seoulcialite, a Fashionista, a Southern Belle, a Tree-hugging Mom, and a Nerd have in common?  Foreigners were exactly what the Korean Racing Association wanted to see at the brand new Sheraton Walkerhill Off-Track Betting Center in Seoul, and we bloggers got to enjoy all the benefits last weekend!  To be clear: we were invited to join a blogger open house at the Sheraton Walkerhill Off-Track Horse-Racing Center.  The OTB experience that we had is not limited to press, it is what you will get when you visit Walkerhill yourself.  Let’s Run: A case where going “Off Track” is a good thing.

The new facilities, which opened Friday June 3rd, 2016, are clean and quiet.  This is a far cry from what I would have imagined having been to some of the casinos throughout Asia.  A few juicy details to note before jumping into the nitty-gritty:

–         Entrance is free until the end of June

–         Food & Beverages will be free until the end of June

–         A free betting voucher of 5,000 Won will be provided to try out betting (at a 100 Won minimum bet this means you may bet as many as 50 times for free!)

–         Parking tickets are provided for those with cars (don’t drink and drive, however, ladies and gents!)

–         There will be on-going promotions after the current promotion ends, so make sure to sign up for a silver or gold membership to keep apprised of all the exciting events!

Hardly like Vegas, this small, well-lit space offers tons of screens with all the statistics you’ll need, and shots of the horses racing for the 10 minute in advance of each race.  Walkerhill even has a classroom for those of us who need a little extra attention and like to take an educated approach to gambling.

There are a variety of bets you can make!Here’s the horse-betting guide for dummies:

Win:  Choose a horse you think will win.  If it comes in first, you win! Hoorayyyy…

Place:  Choose a horse you think will place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.  If that horse places, you win.  This is your lowest risk bet.  Lower risk means a lower reward, so choose this option if you’re nervous about betting.

Quinella:  In a Quinella, you’ll bet on the two horses you think will come in 1st or 2nd.  The order doesn’t matter.

Exacta:  Exacta is like Quinella, except the order matters.  You must select which horse will place 1st and which horse will place 2nd.

Quinella Place: Select 2 horses.  If they BOTH place (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), you win!

Trio: Select 3 horses to place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in any order.

As far as picking the horse(s) on which you’ll bet?  That’s up to you. Apparently you’re supposed to look for a nice, shiny coat, a big booty (ho-rse), a thick neck, and vascularity for the majestic beast on which you’ll be betting.  You can check out how many times each horse has raced, and of those races how many times they have come in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.  You’ll see the horses favoured to win as well as those thought to place by specialists and analysts, but ultimately it all comes down to lady luck.

VIP at the KRA Horse-Racing OTB Sheraton Walkerhill

After trying our luck in the open-area lounge (where I broke even) we headed upstairs, with our free lattes – I might add, to the VIP lounges.  There are a variety of themed rooms designed to give each group a different experience, while still enabling each guest to engage in the betting process by having a wall FULL of TV’s with statistics floating by.  In fact, only one of these TV’s was showing the lead up to the race or the race itself.

While in its current state it’s definitely for the serious gambler, I think in the near future their aim is to make things a little more weekend (read: Sunday-Funday for me!) friendly  vibe with music, drinks, and more of a party atmosphere if that’s what you’re after.  What I particularly liked was that the center is very clean (non-smoking), the service is phenomenal, and the English-speaking attendants will explain any betting-related issues about which you might still be wondering.

Want the best of both worlds?  Perfect!  From 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM at the Club Lounge on the 17th Floor there’s a happy hour with tons of cheese (rare for Korea!), pastries, salads, and pour your own Wine (Red, White, and Sparkling), Beer, and Spirits.  I mean, doesn’t it just make sense to get all dolled up, get the adrenaline rush of the races, and then “refresh” before a night on the town?

I will definitely be back to the Walkerhill OTB Center soon!  There are too many restaurants to explore at the Sheraton as well, and I need to master my Kentucky Derby confidence before hitting any of the many tracks in Korea (or the Queen’s Plate back home!).  I’ll be partnering with the Korean Racing Association for some upcoming events, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled on torontoseoulcialite.com as well as the Toronto Seoulcialite on Facebook.  Interested in hearing more about the Sheraton Walkerhill Hotel and my awesome experience there?  Well, just wait!  It’ll be up before month’s end.

Quick Notes on The Sheraton Walkerhill Hotel (adjusted from Google):

Set next to Achasan mountain, this elegant hotel is a minute’s walk (or free shuttle bus) from the nearest bus stop and a 25-minute bus strip from the underground COEX Mall.

Chic rooms and suites include free Wi-Fi and flat-screens. Club rooms give access to a lounge with free breakfast. Suites add separate living rooms. Room service is available 24/7.

Free perks include parking and a metro station shuttle service. There’s a bakery, a cafe and 6 restaurants, 1 of which serves Italian dishes. Additional amenities include event space, an exercise room, and indoor and outdoor pools. There’s also a souvenir shop, a casino, off-track horse betting and a tennis court. Pets are welcome.

Address: 177, 워커힐로 광진구 서울특별시

Phone: 02-455-5000

Let’s Run CCC. Walkerhill Horse-Racing OTBCenter Operation Information

Open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays

Operation Time


typeOperation TimeJanuary – March(Friday·Saturday·Sunday) 9:00 ∼ 18:30April~June(Friday) 11:00 ∼ 19:30 (Saturday·Sunday) 9:00 ∼ 18:30July~August(Friday·Saturday) 11:00 ∼ 21:30 (Sunday) 9:00 ∼ 18:30September(Friday) 11:00 ∼ 19:30 (Saturday·Sunday) 9:00 ∼ 18:30October~December(Friday·Saturday·Sunday) 9:00 ∼ 18:30

Special thanks to the team at The Korean Racing Association, Mimsie from My Seoul Searching, Yvette at District Gal, Lily from A Travel Lady Bug, Kristina at The Nerdventurists, and Hallie from The Soul of Seoul.

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7 Brand New Ice Creams From Korean Convenience Store You Will Want to Try!

Koreabridge - Sat, 2016-06-11 13:43
7 Brand New Ice Creams From Korean Convenience Store You Will Want to

Time to get outside and enjoy the summer heat with cold desserts like ice cream beause it’s getting hot in South Korea. Sure Baskin Robbins, Natuur POP and Haagendaz are well-known brands, but if you are looking for inexpensive refreshments, head over to Korean convenience stores where you can find ice creams that are delicious and affordable.

Here are our picks for brand new ice creams you should try this summer in Korea!

1. Yours 25% Mango

GS Convenience Store has recently released a premium ice dessert called Yours 25% Mango. It is an upgraded version that has changed the ingredient from yellow mango to Apple Mango with more rich mango flavor and taste. With 25% of real mango juice and condensed milk, this sherbet is gaining huge popularity among mango lovers. The cost is 3000 KRW.

2. Akma (Devil) Bingsu

The combination of chocolate and mint are almost as perfect a match as can be. Referred to as devil’s food, this refreshing mixture of ice dessert called Akma Bingsu is a layered wonder that you must try this summer. Same as Yours 25% Mango, it costs 3,000 KRW.

3. Slice Pop

These two brand new fruit-flavored frozen treats made from real blueberries and kiwis are perfect refreshment if you prefer fruit flavors over sugary and heavy chocolate ice creams. Each cost 2,500 KRW.

4. Gyeondyo-bar (Hangover Ice Cream)

This unique hangover-fighting Korean ice cream, Gyeondyo-bar, has caught everyone’s attention recently. Try it for yourself to see if this extraordinary ice cream is really effective in curing your hangover! This hangover ice cream costs 1,200 KRW.

5. Cledor’s Salted Caramel & Choco Brownie

Cledor, one of the Korean premium ice cream brands, has always offered their ice cream products in cups and bars. But, they have newly released ice cream cones that have two flavors, Salted Caramel and Choco Brownie. Each cost 2,500 KRW.

6. Tiramisu Ice Cream

Along with Akma Bingsu, this Tiramisu Ice Cream emerged as one of the must-try treats from GS Convenience Store. This tiramisu flavored ice cream in a mini cup is so popular that it was sold out as soon as it went on sale in several parts of South Korea. The cost is 2,500 KRW.

7. CU Miss Mango & Miss Pineapple

These two ice bars with tropical fruit flavors are brand new products that are released from CU Convenience Store. You can choose from mango and pineapple flavors and each cost 1,500 KRW. Without any additives, these two products are perfect for those who are looking for organic and  healthy ice desserts.

Enjoyed reading this blog? Don’t forget to visit Trazy.com, Korea’s #1 Travel Shop, where you can find all the latest, trendiest and newest things to do in South Korea.

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From Day to Night at Korea’s Historic Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon (PHOTOS)

Koreabridge - Thu, 2016-06-09 01:39
From Day to Night at Korea’s Historic Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon (PHOT Suwon Hwaseong FortressA UNESCO-designated cultural heritage site everyone must visit at least once in their lifetime. 

“Hwaseong Fortress represents the pinnacle of 18th-century military architecture, incorporating the best scientific ideas from Europe and East Asia.” – UNESCO

Every year, thousands of visitors flock to Suwon City, in Gyeonggi Province that is just south of Seoul, to admire the beauty of Hwaseong Fortress. But if you visit this year, it is going to be even more fantastic!

In celebration of its 220th anniversary, the city has designated 2016 as the ‘Visit Suwon Hwaseong Year‘ and plenty of cultural events and programs will be held for both local and international visitors to Hwaseong Fortress.
Regarded as the most outstanding and well-preserved fortress in South Korea, the beauty and grandeur of Hwaseong Fortress is incomparable to other fortresses in the country.

Built in the late 18th century, this magnificent structure is treasured for its cultural and historical values and thus was designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. For more details and directions, click here.Regarded as the most outstanding and well-preserved fortress in South Korea, its beauty and grandeur truly is incomparable to other fortresses in the country.

When the sun is still up, make sure you take your time to take in every aspect of Hwaseong Fortress. Learn about its historical background and what each structure is built for. Try various traditional activities like the traditional archery for instance. It costs 1,000 KRW per 5 arrows.And when the sun goes down, enjoy the Moonlight Tour!Just like the special night time openings of the royal palaces in Seoul, Suwon Hwaseong and Hwaseong Haenggung Palace (located inside the fortress), are open to public at night until July 17. The available dates for the Moonlight Tour in June are 16, 17, 18 and 19 and in July are 15, 16 and 17. Tickets cost 20,000 won and must be purchased in advance at interpark.com. If you need any help, call +82-1544-1555.During this special cultural period, you can take in the night view of the Haengggung Palace and Hwaseong Fortress and enjoy various traditional performances. The performances will be held from 19:50 until 22:10.
Now, if you are interested in visiting Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon and want to check out other attractions nearby, click here. If you need a transport service, it is available here.

Whether it’s day or night, you’ll find a truly beautiful sight to behold during your time in Suwon. So all you have to do is go.

Photo Credits
DSCF2198 – Paldalmun, porte sud de la forteresse Hwaseong, Suwon via photopin (license)
DSCF2277 via photopin (license)
hwaseong fortress 15 via photopin (license)
suwon_20150512_48.jpg via photopin (license)
suwon_20150512_74 Panorama.jpg via photopin (license)
DSC_0685 via photopin (license)
DSC_0312 via photopin (license)
DSC_0255 via photopin (license)
DSC_0264 via photopin (license)
DSC_0281 via photopin (license)

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We are currently focusing on Korea as our destination and plan to expand to other countries gradually. 

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June is Pride!

Koreabridge - Thu, 2016-06-09 01:30
June is Pride!
Apologies. Graduate school has kept me away from blogging. I'm not going to promise returning to regular blogging soon, because I am about to graduate and move to Boston to start a new job! My husband (did I mention we got married :-D) will be spending his summer in Seattle for an internship before finishing up in San Diego. So I have a busy month ahead of me.

However, everything is all settled down, I will be getting into a routine for Korean language study and blog writing. My new job does not involve anything queer or Korean, so I have to be vigilant in retaining my language skills and providing information to my dear (queer?) readers.

Anyway, June is pride month! Happy pride! Korea's pride festival is begining this Saturday June 11th. The main pride parade will be on Saturday from 11 AM to 7 PM in Seoul plaza, with estimates for the parade starting around 4:30. That night there will b a private beach official party on SEvit-Seom (one of the artificial islands on the Han River0 beginning at 10 pm. Check out KQCF's website for more information.

The film festival goes from June 16th (Thursday) to the 19th (Sunday). Screenings are at the Lotte Cinema Broadway Hall near Sinsa Station. More information about the films can be found at the KQFF's website. (That website though is pretty messy on their English language page...)

Hope you have a great pride month! 


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Our French Polynesian Honeymoon!! Part 1: Tahiti

Koreabridge - Sat, 2016-06-04 14:59
Our French Polynesian Honeymoon!! Part 1: Tahiti
Honeymooning!!! This is right before we head off to Bora Bora. 
(Goal: Get the honeymoon up on the blog prior to going on our babymoon.)We didn't actually go on our honeymoon until 10 months after our wedding. Not much thought went into that decision (actually lack of thought is probably more accurate); but in retrospect, I'm glad it happened that way. Decreased stress of honeymoon planning while simultaneously planning a wedding allowed us time to save more for our honeymoon, and we weren't exhausted from the exciting yet tiring wedding day.  
Folks have asked how we chose the location. I personally don't do well with too many choices to pick from. I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay in a bungalow in some 'far away land' as I had always seen portrayed in Costco... if we could swing it. So my choices were narrowed by bungalow locations, and we eventually settled on Bora Bora and Moorea. 
We did our research on Google and TripAdvisor and ended up using Custom Tahiti Travel (Jackie Schlumper) as our agent. Can't speak highly enough about Jackie. She is amazing!... just like the reviews said! 
Trip Itinerary: BOS --> LAX --> PPT --> BOB --> MOZ --> PPT --> LAX --> BOS 

Off we go!!!

Beautiful Tahitian welcome at the airport after an overnight flight from LA.
Our overnight flight from LA landed us in Tahiti before sunrise. While our room was actually ready, we couldn't wait to go explore. Watching paradise reveal itself as the sun rose over the earth was simply incredible! 

While not our main honeymoon destination, we had to fly into Tahiti to get to Bora Bora. We chose to stay overnight in Tahiti to 1) not waste a day at our main locations catching up on sleep 2) explore Tahiti, because well... it's Tahiti and 3) get snacks as was recommended on TripAdvisor.

        Lighter by day.

The breakfast buffet finally opened. Ryan was pleased to see a diverse selection, including a table dedicated to an eclectic concoction of Japanese and Chinese dishes! 

Ryan catching up on sleep, without sunscreen, post-red-eye breakfast. Note: without sunscreen. Despite our obvious differences in pigmentation levels, this trip showed that I know much more about sun safety than my husband... By the end of our trip, his epidermis had been fried, he was shedding everywhere, and sunscreen was his best friend.

I was exploring while Ryan began his sun-baking. 
Artwork in our room                                                                      Artwork in our roomMy creation of artwork in our room using our welcome leis.

Wall art discovered while exploring Tahiti

Because I was following the light cycle, this was our nighttime view from the hotel lobby.

Following the advice of TripAdvisor, we bought snacks to cut costs where we could... alas, our Tahiti farewell breakfast on our room porch. Ryan also has a thing for trying local snacks, i.e., the Nature Valley bars are mine.

Loved these Mr. & Mrs. tees from Blackbird Tees. I'm a nerd, I know... but I searched on Etsy for the perfect ones, and these fit the bill. (Plus, the owner was a pleasure to purchase from, and the tees were really comfortable!) Laid them out here to mark the 'official' beginning of our honeymoon, as this was the day we were flying into Bora Bora.

Shot with the Tiki rear before heading out

Again, the light cycle. Same shot the morning we left Tahiti.
Finally, the moment had come... in the Tahiti airport excitedly waiting to head to Bora Bora!!!

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Marmot’s Hole Podcast: South Korean Air Pollution Grows With Coal Power Expansion

Koreabridge - Fri, 2016-06-03 10:09
Marmot’s Hole Podcast: South Korean Air Pollution Grows With Coal Powe

Marmot’s Hole blogger Robert Koehler & Korea FM creator Chance Dorland discuss growing air pollution in South Korea that while often blamed on Chinese “yellow dust” is increasingly a result of the ROK’s expanding reliance on coal power plants.

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 Interview answers, both in written & audio form, have been edited for length & clarity.

Listen online via: audioBoom, StitcherTuneInYouTube, or RSS

The post Marmot’s Hole Podcast: South Korean Air Pollution Grows With Coal Power Expansion appeared first on Korea FM.


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Dreaming the Day

Koreabridge - Fri, 2016-06-03 06:04
Dreaming the Day

Last night, I had a dream. I put some people I loved on a bus, and then I boarded the bus with them. They were the ones who were leaving, yet they disembarked before I did. I continued to ride, thinking to myself that I was going in the opposite direction of home and then figuring it didn’t matter.

When I arrived home (by way of that magical dream logic), I was startled to find there were two birds in the house — a finch and a magpie. I felt somehow that I had to rescue the finch. For some reason, the magpie didn’t matter. In fact, it seemed to be a possible source of danger. I scooped up the finch and carried it to the window where it hopped around in my hands for a few seconds before flying away.

When I woke up, I shook B awake as usual and made the coffee while he showered. When we carried it into the living room to have a seat on the sofa, I started. There, on the cushion of the sofa where I usually sit, was a small feather.

“What is that?” I asked B, thinking my sleep-fogged mind was just creating associations.

“털이네,” he responded, using a word in Korean that can mean both “feather” and “fur”. We have two cats, and I usually only ever hear that word used to mean “fur”.

“It’s not fur! It’s obviously not fur…”

“아니 깃털, 깃털이야.” No, a bird’s feather, it’s a feather.

“That is so bizarre. I had a dream last night that there was a bird in the house.”

Just then, our cat Vera tore off across the living room and into the kitchen. Due to where B was sitting, he saw it before I did.

“아 씨발! 버드! 버드! 진짜로 버드이네!” Fuck, bird! Bird! It really is a bird!

I grabbed Vera and tossed her into the bathroom, closing the door behind me, while my husband, who never swears, shouted every word in the book at the top of his lungs in the kitchen, quickly descending into a state of total panic and taking cover as if the finch were a grenade hurtling toward him every time it took flight.

It was acting injured, which isn’t unusual for a bird that’s trapped inside. It’s usually minor bang-ups from crashing into walls and general disorientation. I used to work at a school on the side of a mountain where all of the screenless windows were kept open throughout spring and summer. Magpies, usually, would occasionally wander inside, and I admit they frightened me, but I would do what I had to to get them back out to safety, usually by way of a broom and good timing. This finch, though, was so small and clearly terrified. Who knew how long Vera had been chasing it around the house?

I approached it a few times, but it fluttered away as soon as I got near. I shouted at B to calm the 씨발 down — his shouting and wild flouncing around the room were not helping. He moved to the other side of the kitchen and did his best to hold still while I finally got near enough to the finch to scoop it up in my hands. It didn’t fight me. When I got to the window, I held it outside carefully cupped in both palms. It just sat there staring at me.

“I guess I’m going to have to take it out– I can’t just drop it. What if it’s hurt and it can’t fly?”

B: “다첬어? 다첬어? IS IT SICK?”

“I don’t know. I’ll just carry it out to the fro–”

And then it flew away.

“무섭네…” Scary, B said.

“It’s just a little bird. It wasn’t going to hurt you. For god’s sake.”

“아니, 리지. 무당이야, 무당.” No, you. Shaman, you’re a shaman.

My rational mind knows that I must have somehow sensed the bird while I was sleeping, possibly even briefly opened my eyes, saw it and didn’t remember, which was the conclusion B eventually came to. But it still felt like it meant something. It’s not the only dream like that I’ve ever had. Far from it.

When you grow up in a Southern Baptist home, you are inevitably taught about prophets and prophesy, which makes it less scary (for both you and your parents) when you have dreams like that or when you intuit things so specific that it’s like you’re reading people’s minds. I won’t go into the details, because not all of it is mine to tell, but there were points when I dreamed and intuited things that changed the entire course of our family and home life, specifically things about my father. I still sometimes get spooked by my dreams and certain gut feelings and have to call home to make sure everything’s alright. When my grandfather came down with cancer for the last time, although it was in early stages yet, as soon as I heard his voice over the phone, I knew he was going to die, and I knew he knew he was going to die.

A lot of it can be attributed to being able to read the people I love really well, which is the part that spooks B. He can say, “hi” in the wrong tone of voice, and I’ll know he’s hiding something.

The point is, it’s almost always negative when it’s concrete, but occasionally there’s an incident that’s more abstract, like this morning. I don’t know what it means that I dreamed about the bird, and then the bird was there, but it felt like a sign, an auspicious omen.

So I spent the morning shelling peas over coffee and cleaning greens for soup while wondering what good thing might be coming my way.

The post Dreaming the Day appeared first on Follow the River North.

Follow the River North

Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.

Books & Stuff    Cafés & Shops     Korean Food & Ingredients      Personal     Recipes       Restaurants & Bars

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Crown Daisy Doenjang-guk: A Light Summer Soup With a Green Herbal Kick

Koreabridge - Wed, 2016-06-01 02:45
Crown Daisy Doenjang-guk: A Light Summer Soup With a Green Herbal Kick

I am a fiend for soup and stews. I have a theory that there are two types of people in this world: those who eat ramen for the noodles and those who eat ramen for the broth. I fall into the latter category. I think there is something deeply, spiritually good about a delicious broth. It’s eye of newt and toe of frog — it’s the closest most of us will ever get to sorcery.

Stews and bone broths are my preferred poison, but I enjoy being forced to pull back and figure it out in the summer. There’s a lot to work with. While heavier soups are about time and technique, in the summer, it’s more about puzzling out combinations and bringing several light flavors into harmony with each other.



Crown daisy greens (ssukgat in Korean, also known as chrysanthemum greens in English) are slightly bitter, peppery, herbal — almost medicinal — in flavor. They are aromatic and full of antioxidants. I find that they play well with the briny flavor of dried shiitake mushrooms, which produce a broth slightly reminiscent of bone broth (the dried mushrooms themselves are strangely meaty), and doenjang (fermented soybean paste), which provides a foundational richness.

Doenjang is, in my opinion and along with gochujang, one of the best things Korea has ever produced. And I’m not being flippant there. Doenjang making is an art form. It can take upwards of a year and a half of constant maintenance to produce a single batch, and unlike kimchi, which can be made and left to ferment, doejang requires dozens of different stages, steps and procedures. Do yourself a favor and never, ever use the crap that comes in those green plastic tubs, if you can at all avoid it. The very best doenjang is sold at the traditional markets or passed between neighbors and often comes to you in a Russian-doll packaging of unmarked plastic bags. Like wine, no two batches ever taste the same, and there are dozens of variations — some is light and sweet, some is thick, dark and salty. If you’re outside of Korea, skip the shelves at your local Korean market and ask the owner if he or she has any real doenjang. The next best thing is anything marked “organic” (유기), “traditional” (전통) or “country” (시골),  usually sold in big, squat glass jars.

Dried anchovies, dasima (dried kelp, kombu in Japanese) and shiitake mushrooms form the base broth of this soup, and the broth commands the bulk of the cooking time. Unlike most jjigae (stew), which need to be simmered for about an hour, most guk (soup) come together relatively quickly, once you have the broth ready (this base broth can also be made in large batches and frozen for use in a whole host of other soups). The lighter flavor and consistency are nice in warmer weather, as is the shorter amount of time spent lingering over the stove in the kitchen. The tofu and crown daisy greens and spring onions go in at the last minute, after the other vegetables have cooked through.

Soups like this one are served as a side at most meals in Korea, but they often become the main at breakfast, and, as a chronic breakfast skipper, Korean soups are one of the few things I enjoy first thing in the morning (coffee, cigarettes and quiet being the current reigning champions). The light, bright flavors ease you awake while providing good sustenance to get you up and running without weighing you down from starting line.

At the moment, my fridge is packed to the brim with a mountain of early summer greens from the co-op, but crown daisy greens remain at the top of the pile. Right now I’m focusing on reining myself in, in the kitchen, and paring back to more simple flavors, finding new ways to let ingredients sing for themselves. Crown daisy greens are great practice, because they have their own voice but can easily be drowned out in a crowd. By dialing everything else back a bit in soups like this, I’m teaching myself how to myself how to make food that’s good but that doesn’t necessarily grab you by the throat and shout it in your face. I hope this soup works, there. I think it does, at least.


PrintSsukgat Doenjang-guk: Korean Fermented Soybean Soup With Crown Daisy Greens


  • 10 cups water
  • 12 dried anchovies
  • 3 sheets dasima (dried kelp)
  • 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • Soup
  • 1/2 Korean zucchini (aehobak) or Western zucchini, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup doenjang (fermented soybean paste)
  • 1 block of tofu, cubed
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 large bunch crown daisy greens (can substitute other aromatic greens), roughly chopped


  1. Add the water, anchovies, mushrooms and dasima to a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes.
  2. Strain out the anchovies, dasima and mushrooms. Wash the pot and return the broth to the pot, bringing it to a boil. Whisk in the doenjang and then add the onions and zucchini. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil and simmer for until the vegetables are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  3. Bring the soup up to a full rolling boil, turn off the heat and add the spring onion, tofu and green onion. Stir the ingredients through, cover the pot and allow it to sit for about two minutes. Serve the soup while it's hot.


The post Crown Daisy Doenjang-guk: A Light Summer Soup With a Green Herbal Kick appeared first on Follow the River North.

Follow the River North

Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.

Books & Stuff    Cafés & Shops     Korean Food & Ingredients      Personal     Recipes       Restaurants & Bars

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The Bucket List: Round II

Koreabridge - Tue, 2016-05-31 08:17
The Bucket List: Round II

Before moving to Korea, I made a Bucket List.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying, and I had no idea that I’d be moving from Seoul down to Busan.  Of my initial list, I’ve managed to find Seokbulsa (Temple), Busan (obviously…), Gyeongju, The Jindo Sea Parting  and the Sea Parting Festival, and next weekend Expat and the City and I will be going to the DMZ!  I have yet to visit Jeju Island (the Hawaii of Korea, apparently), I missed the Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival (I could and should have gone, but there’s always next year!), and Sun Cruise has taken a bit of a back seat to all the awesome things I’ve found and added to my list.

On Saturday I participated in a press tour organized by the municipality of Seoul in collaboration with the Korean Food Foundation.  Seoul Bloggers and Photographers went for a meet, greet, walking tour of the old city, and lunch.  I’m so incredibly honoured to have been invited.  We had a wonderful day with a great tour guide and I managed to cross off even more places I had been hoping to visit.  Having lived in Korea for a year, I’d like to present Round II of my Bucket List, this edition being all Seoul.  As I’ve already managed to visit many of the places on my initial list, I’ll give a little information and/or an opinion on each, and then list the remainder at the end.  One thing’s for sure – it’s never a dull time living in Seoul!


Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace) is the centre of Seoul.  Near City Hall and the majority of the Press Centres, you’ll find starting here is a great way to see a large part of Seoul’s traditional and historic sites in a condensed amount of time.  This palace is a great place to visit when you’re feeling stressed or frazzled.  It’s also a great date spot!  After a great bulgogi lunch at a hole in the wall place around the corner, we wandered over to the palace and waited patiently in a long line for tickets.  There were plenty of cute couples in matching traditional Korean attire who would gain free admission to the palace simply for rockin’ a hanbok.  After some sake on date number 1, I had suggested (since he was really into exploring the culture of Korea) that we try some on in Insadong.  He agreed to it, but we were both pretty happy we didn’t go through with the plan.  Even with the fog of looming rain it was pretty hot for May!

We wandered around the pristine grounds for over an hour.  I could have easily spent the entire day there as there were a number of places to sit and enjoy the serene environment.  If you’re only in Seoul for a couple of days I would absolutely suggest checking out Gyeongbokgung not just because it’s a beautiful place, but also because of its proximity to Namdaemun, Insa-dong, Jogyesa, Bukchon Hanok Village, Dongdaemun, and Myeong-dong.  I love to walk around and soak up new cities, so this route was a real treat for me!


I’ve visited Namdaemun a couple of times.  The first time was in early February during Seollal (Lunar New Year) when we had dinner at a place called Machos.  It was basically Korean-American junk food fusion, and the dishes we shared were unhealthy (and very tasty)!  Still, I found there were more fresh vegetables in the dishes than most places here.

Seeing as it was a major holiday, Namdaemun was almost completely empty.  It was quiet and serene, but we still had a great time.  Fast forward to the beginning of May when I visited once again.  This time we had already visited Gyeongbokgung and Insadong.  We wandered along on what turned out to be a beautiful spring Saturday afternoon.  If you visit Korea you’ll notice there’s a tendency to build up.  There are tons of restaurants on higher and higher levels, so there is no shortage of rooftop patios around the city.  We spent a nice chunk of time sipping on Premier OB Dunkel (a tasty variation on a relatively cheap Korean beer), talking, and playing darts.  I’m horrible at darts, but it’s a really popular game in Korea and I always manage to have fun playing!  Namdaemun is full of BBQ spots (galbi [meat – often beef/ steak], samgyeopsal [pork], etc.) and has tons of places for ChiMaek (Chicken and Beer).

There are tons of places to shop, eat, drink, and be merry – there are clubs, noraebangs (singing rooms), and even a flair bartending bar (think “Cocktail”).  Namdaemun reminds me a lot of Seomyeon in Busan, then again so does my own neighbourhood of Sincheon!

Cheonggyecheon Stream

Once a “neglected waterway hidden by an overpass”, Cheonggyecheon Stream is now a top spot for couples and hopeful romantics.  There are twenty-two bridges that cross the stream, allowing for easy access to historical and tourist attractions.  According to Visit Korea, there are two tours available and several activities in which to participate:

Tour Course Information
Route 1 (Distance: 2.9 ㎞/Duration: 3 hours)
Cheonggyecheon Plaza – Gwangtonggyo Bridge – Samilgyo Bridge (Jongno, Insadong) – Ogansugyo Bridge (Dongdaemun Fashion Town) – Saebyeokdari (Bridge of Dawn; Gwangjang Market, Bangsan Market) – Supyogyo Bridge

Route 2 (Distance: 2.6 ㎞/Duration: 2.5 hours)
Cheonggyecheon Culture Center – Gosanjagyo Bridge – Dumuldari Bridge – Malgeunnaedari Bridge – Ogansugyo Bridge (Dongdaemun Fashion Town)

Activity Information
* Ecology exploration, hands-on programs run all year round.
* Covered Structure Exploration – Exploration the inside of covered structures at Cheonggyecheon Stream (10 min with guide)
– Venue: 50m from Samilgyo Bridge at Cheonggycheon 2-ga

Reservation Info. for Foreigners
Walking tour (Inquiries: +82-2-397-5908)
Route: Cheonggye Plaza/Cheonggye Culture Center – Ogansugyo Bridge
(Schedule: 3 times daily / Languages: English, Japanese, Chinese)

I haven’t personally taken either of these tours, but I have seen the stream from Dongdaemun as well as from Namdaemun.  It is incredibly romantic, and any spot along the stream would make for a great picnic with friends, family, or loved ones.  I’d like to take one of these tours before the end of summer, but know that I’ll be headed there for the lantern festival in November as well.

Insa-dong (인사동)

I’ve included the Hangeul writing for Insa-dong as it is a historic cultural area with many hanok restaurants and cafes.  Because of its historical significance, all signs must be written in Korean – even 스타박스 (Starbucks)!  This delightful area is a great place to rent a hanbok and wander through all the little alleyways and artistic streets.  This is the area where I would send you if you asked where to buy souvenirs.  There are some fantastic Korean and Indian restaurants (I had a first date at Indoro and we were very pleased with our food).  When I went with some gal pals from Busan, we ate little chocolate-filled pastries in the shape of a turd.  I kid you not, Korea is obsessed with adorable, animated, poop-shaped things.  There’s even a cafe in Insa-dong called the Poop Cafe where you’ll find more than just potty-mouths and toilet-humour.

The girls and I perused the items in the many traditional-style shops, but as I’m not much of a person for knick-knacks I didn’t buy anything.  We did, however, try on hanboks in a photo studio for cute Korean memory (in and out in 10 minutes for KRW 5,000 [$5].  Bring cash).


Having recently visited Jogyesa the weekend of the Lotus Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday, you may have already checked out my piece on this temple.  The festival and parade themselves weren’t all that exciting, but Jogyesa is right in Insa-dong and should not be missed, especially if you’re in town from mid-April to mid-May.  The temple grounds are really peaceful and beautiful, and with incense burning and hundreds of lanterns guiding your way, the experience is one I won’t soon forget.

Bukchon Hanok Village

I expected the Bukchon Hanok Village to be a lot more like Jeonju than it actually was.  This area is right beside Gyeongbok Palace, and while there are many old-style houses and buildings, you’ll find all the modern stores of Itaewon (nothing big box, but there’s a massive Kiehl’s!).

After the initial shock, I found myself really enjoying the winding streets.  It was also a really clean area with tons of trees.  I would certainly return for dinner (again, more rooftops!), pie (there’s an entire dessert shop dedicated to tarts and pies), and the smooth tunes from live jazz bar La Clé ).

N Seoul Tower

It’s not as tall as the CN Tower, and it’s lower on my list of priorities, but geographically speaking it belongs in and around here on this list.  Seoul Tower opened in 1980.  I’ve seen many an instapost of darling couples clicking their love lock and throwing away the key.  Cute.  Didn’t Paris remove all the lovers padlocks from Pont des Arts recently?  As this is a quintessential part of the Seoul skyline, I will need to visit this spot at some point.  On the Seoul Press Tour we actually ate at POOM which is not exactly in N Seoul Tower, but it is part of the complex.  The service was phoenomenal, the decor and atmosphere were soothing, and the plating of each dish was a work of art.  On top of that, the chef was very friendly and chatted with us briefly before we left.  If you have friends in from out of town or a particularly special event on the books, head over to POOM.  You won’t be disappointed!

Seoul City Wall (Fortress Wall of Seoul)

There are four main mountains which surround the centre of Seoul.  Initially constructed in 1396, Seoul City Wall stretches 18.6 km long and is the longest serving city wall of all the walled cities in the world (say that ten times fast!).  The wall has (obviously) been rebuilt several times, and parts were even closed off for a period of about 40 years.  You can see the reconstructed areas quite easily with the changing shapes of the stones denoting the time period and associated leader.  This part of our tour gave me the best views of Seoul I have seen to date, and I would highly recommend heading to the area of Seoul City Wall where you may access the Ihwa Mural Village to may the most of your trip.

 Ihwa Mural Village

Much like Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan, Ihwa Mural Village is an area which has been through a major redevelopment project.  Nearly 60 artists participated in the restoration, painting and installing art throughout.

Sadly, much like in Gamcheon, the locals have become irritated by the noise and general inconsideration from tourists.  Many of the murals (including one particularly remarkable set of painted stairs) have been painted over by the residents.  I understand their frustrations, but it’s always devastating to see art destroyed.

Hyehwa Station (Seoul Subway Line 4), and Exit 2. Walk towards Marronnier Park.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (& Seoul Fashion Week)

Seeing Dongdaemun Design Plaza from Seoul City Wall was awe-inspiring.  The building designed by Dame Zaha Hadid makes me feel tiny and like I live on a completely different planet (well, that’s not unusual in Seoul, but visit the DDP and you’ll have a bit more of a sense of why I feel like a martian there.  It feels like home, even it really shouldn’t…

Seoul Fashion Week was an exciting time!  Star, from 87pages.com, and I had planned to see some shows together, and going from seeing the DDP completely empty during the Lunar New Year to bustling with people in all kinds of crazy street styles was a trip.  At a sample sale the next week I asked one of the designers if I could be in his Spring/Summer 2017 show.  He said yes, but that he wouldn’t pay me (um…OKAY!), so if he’s good on his word you’ll see this waygook walking the Yohanix runway at the DDP in September 2016.


Myeong-dong is a fabulous shopping area especially if you’re on the taller or bigger side of the foreigner scene.  As you can see above, they take their Christmas lights seriously and light up the whole area.  This area is very similar to Nampo-dong in Busan.  There are tons of foreign-friendly shops (there’s an H&M, a Forever21, Zara, Club Monaco, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.), international cuisine (although it’s more Korean than Itaewon), and a beautiful cathedral.  I visited Myeong-dong briefly on my first trip to Seoul and in the summer heat there were just too many people for me.  At Christmas, it was the perfect time to stroll, window shop, and see the lights.

National Museum of Korea

We visited the National Museum of Korea by mistake our first time, and with possibly the most boring people on the planet.  Friends: venture beyond the pre-historic era, I BEG of you!

You’ll find some really interesting artifacts, Korean art and calligraphy, a beautiful pond, a great view of Seoul and Seoul N Tower, and if you’re lucky, the special exhibits building will be open.  I’ve visited twice now and am still waiting to get into that second building.  Don’t arrive hungry – the “Snack and Bar” is a real disappointment.


People love to love and love to hate on Itaewon.  My first few times in Itaewon I really didn’t quite “get it”.  There are a bunch of stores and pubs along the main drag of Itaewon-ro, but once you head behind the Hamilton Hotel the world kind of opens up.  There are a variety of Mexican restaurants (no, Taco Bell is not what I’m talking about [although at 2 AM you’ll be glad it’s there!]) like Coreanos (delicious!) and Vatos (the most overrated restaurant in Seoul).

There are several Thai and Indian spots I’m aching to try as well as tons of Southern BBQ Spots (I’ve visited Manimal a couple of times now.  Try the ribs and and pulled pork, avoid the chicken and the brisket), Tiki Bars, Clubs, “Canadian Bars” (Rocky Mountain Tavern is really popular, and there’s a new spot with wicked decor called Canucks.  The food?  erm…almost, but no), and brasseries.  Once you delve into some of the back-alley spots you’ll find superb places like Braii Republic (who knew I liked South African food so much?) and tons of great little Korean shops for cheap and cheerful clothes.  My advice? Don’t buy the first thing you like – there are plenty of stores selling the same items.  Find your best price and be prepared to walk away if it’s too much.  This is a foreigner area, so prices are a bit jacked.  Want to know my favourite places on a Saturday night out in the city?  Click here.


Hongdae is a must-see for the college-style partier.  Apparently during the day it’s a place full of art and music, but I’ve just seen a bunch of drunk people having a great time drinking in the park (no open bottle policy) or wandering into many of the bars and clubs (many with aggressive “no foreigners” policies, which is infuriating).  There are tons of restaurants and shops there as well, and I want to explore this University area a lot more (you know, beyond the 2 locations of Thursday Party).

Lotte World & Lotte World Mall

I went to Lotte World Amusement Park with the gang back in February.  Since then, it’s been my favourite complex for shopping (since I can walk there) and groceries.  Beyond the foreigner friendly shops (H&M, Zara, Nike, and two or three Adidas shops) there are two LotteMart locations, a Hi-Mart, a Lotte Department Store and Duty Free, and an underground shopping mall with tons of adorable, inexpensive clothes.  Personally I find some of the Korean shopkeepers get irritated with foreign shoppers, but just be prepared to pay cash and buy without trying and you’ll be alright.  I still have yet to ride the roller-coaster or experience the outdoor amusement park.  Interested?  Let me know!  I live right near the Magic Kingdom.  Wait a minute…

Check out a Baseball Game!

My first game in Seoul was actually the Lotte Giants of Busan playing the LG Twins.  The Doosan Bears are the big hit here, but they play at the same stadium.  Having two teams constantly playing within walking distance makes me very happy.  I have a hard time saying “no” to going to a game (and haven’t, yet!).


I haven’t really had a chance to explore too much of Gangnam.  Literally meaning “South of the River”, it’s a huge area with tons of mammoths clubs and expensive places to shop.  It’s really close to where I live (I can walk to COEX), but I don’t really hang out there much.  This summer ‘d like to make a concentrated effort to spent more time seeking out hot spots and living that Gangnam Style life.

Gangnam Style Statue

Speaking of Gangnam Style and COEX, SMT Town, and the surrounding area looks like yet another martian town, and has a number of statues and art installations including the above Gangnam Style statue dedicated to Psy.  It actually plays “Gangnam Style”, so if you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years or especially dig K-Pop this one’s for you!


This was crossed off my list my first weekend actually living in Seoul.  After going for a casual walk to get coffee, we realised with could cross the bridge near our apartments on foot.  Suddenly I was in Gangnam and everything about my move from Busan to Seoul felt incredibly real.  We spent the afternoon wandering around COEX, a fancy underground shopping mall with tons of international food and great signage.  That’s where I spotted the sign for Bongeunsa.  Knowing that “sa” means “temple”, I had a sneaking suspicion that this was a temple I had Googled weeks prior.  Even though it was really dark out we decided to take a peek.  It must have been past 8 pm by that point, but the temple was still open.  With no entrance fee (I’m sure there was an area for donations, but we didn’t happen upon it) we walked right in and were able to enjoy the beauty of the temple just as lanterns were beginning to go up for Buddha’s birthday.  We wandered around uninhibited by other tourists, and climbed up a few hills to check out the sights.

We found the massive Buddha through the trees on a small hill.  It was almost as though I was seeing the massive statue from the perspective shown in many Seoul brochures.  Having just moved here it’s one of those memories that means a little bit more.  I must say, I found it very funny watching Conan O’Brien in Korea.  He visits this temple and says it’s high in the mountains.  It’s straight up in Gangnam across from the COEX Convention Centre, ladies and gents.  No wonder the monk has the latest iPhone!

All the specialty cafés

Back in February we visited a raccoon cafe!  Blind Alley was the perfect spot for me to conquer my natural fear as a Torontonian.  Beyond raccoons, you’ll find sheep cafés, Lego cafés, Barbie cafés, and Hello Kitty cafés.  The one I’m most excited to visit is the Christian Dior Café in Apgujeong.  Want to read more?  Check it out.

Incheon – Central Park & Songdo

Special mention to Incheon, especially Songdo and Central Park.  The newest area of the city just west of Seoul reminds me of a combination of Mississauga (because of the open space and airport), City Place in Toronto (because of the high-rises and modern statues in the park), Hwamyeong in Busan (because of the massive park and style of bridge), and San Diego (because of the massive, swanky outdoor mall).  If you need a little time away from the city this is about an hour and a half away by subway.  I’m sure there’s a better way to get there (airport express bus, anyone?), but for now the subway will do.

What’s next for The Toronto Seoulcialite?

Olympic Park (I know…I live right next door practically)

Seoul’s hidden Chinatown in Daerim

Independence Gate

The War Memorial of Korea

Changgyeonggung (Palace)

Huwon Secret Garden at Changdeokgung (Palace) – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Olympic Park

Banpo Bridge & Hangang Floating Island (well, I’d like to have a picnic and watch the light show from the banks of the Han)

Myeongdong Cathedral (you know, to see the inside)

Hiking: Bukhansan and Seoraksan

Namsangol Hanok Village

Leeum, Samseong Museum of Art

Seodaemun Prison

Seoul Forest

Yeouido Island

Namhae Island

Nami Island

Ganghwado Island

Petite France & Seorae Village

What have I missed?  Any big suggestions?  Leave them in the comments!

Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

The Other Side

Koreabridge - Sat, 2016-05-28 16:49
The Other Side

“Mmmmmmmy God this is so good,” I mumbled, chewing the sushi in slow motion, savoring every molecule of texture and flavor. “Mmm-mmmmmm… good lord.”

“Excuse me.” Steve–my friend and colleague–waved to the sushi chef, who was busily chopping ginger on the other side of the counter.

“Ah… yes-uh?” The chef stopped his work.

Steve proceeded very slowly: “What-kind-of-fish-is-this?” He pointed to the silver slice perched atop the ball of molded rice in front of him.

Aji,” the man replied.

Aji?” repeated Steve.

Aji. Hai,” confirmed the kind-eyed chef. “How do you say in Eng-uh-rish-uh?”

He looked to his partner—a grey-haired man of about seventy–who stood just feet away, putting the final touches on a shrimp roll. He rattled lighting Japanese his way. The old man glanced up, smiled, and just shook his head. The younger chef then furrowed his brow, gripped his shining knife with his right hand and drummed on his apron with left. He whispered to himself, lost in contemplation, until his eyes suddenly came alive: “Oh, yes. Aji in English! Spah-nish-a mah-kuh-rel.”

“Spanish mackerel. Of course,” nodded Steve.

Hai. Aji.”

Aji is better,” Steve said. “Much easier to pronounce.”

“You need to seriously get down on that, Steve. It’s literally one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.”

“No time like the present.”

I stopped to watch Steve eat this chef’s masterpiece. He gingerly gripped the sushi between two wooden chopsticks and lifted it off the plate. He slowly lowered it towards the ceramic bowl containing the soy sauce mixed with atomic, bright green wasabi. He carefully let just the bottom of the rice absorb the sauce before elevating the now ready-to-eat sushi away from the counter and into his awaiting mouth.

“Go on,” I said. Take it down. The whole thing.”

The sushi disappeared behind his lips. Steve slowly chewed. His eyes gave away the intense pleasure brought forth by this particular little piece. Hints of tears welled up in the corners, visible through the round glasses that partially reflected the florescent lights above. He lowly groaned and ever-so-slightly shook his head in deep approval as he swallowed the piece of art.


Steve set down his chopsticks and finished off the moment with a deep gulp from his ice-cold, foamy-headed mug of Sapporo. He set it down with a heavy clunk on the counter and sighed.

“These are some damned good eats. Was I right about this place or what?”

“This restaurant? Or Japan?”


“Yes, you were. Can we move here?”

The two chefs went back about their business, slicing fish, molding rice, and placing their creations on white plates with the skill and precision of masters. Each took his time, working deliberately and with confidence, in the manner of one who has been at it for ages. Their restaurant was a very small affair marked with a simple sign outside and a sliding black door. The interior consisted of a tiny counter that seated just four or five, as well as two very small tables. There was a second-floor space as well—probably reserved for groups of businessmen—with one tired-looking bob-headed waitress who ran orders up the stairs and empty dishes down. The place was ordinary, as far as sushi joints in Japan go, but the food transcended the unremarkable surroundings. Having just eaten one of the most fantastic meals of my life, I was pulsing in culinary ecstasy.

“I found this place last time I came here,” said Steve. “I was walking around in the rain, looking for somewhere to eat. I can’t read Japanese, so I was shit out of luck, as this isn’t the most English-friendly country, especially with regards to signage. I wandered the streets, obviously clueless, until a voice, in English, called out to me. Across the road I saw a young, dark-skinned, non-Japanese guy selling hand-made jewelry at a little table. So I went over to talk with him. It turns out the he was mixed race–Indian-Israeli-Japanese—and spoke something like five languages. I told him I was looking for good eats, so he had a friend watch his wares while he led me up the street, and voila! Here we are: The best sushi in Fukuoka.”

“You enjoy aji?” The younger chef asked, knowing our answers.

“Incredibly delicious. No, more than that: Exquisite.” I struggled, not finding adequate words.

Arigato gozaimasu.” He punctuated his thanks with a quick bow.

“We are visiting from Korea,” said Steve.

“Oh, Korea? Hai.”

“We live in Busan.” I added. “Do you know Busan?”

“Busan?” He pointed in the direction of the sea, as if to say: Just over there.

“Yes. We took the ferry here today.

“Oh. Busan. Hai.” He nodded in understanding.

“Actually, we’re from America.”

“Ah-mae-ri-kuh? U-S-A?”

“Yes, sir.”

The chef’s eyes lit up. “Oh… America. I live in USA three years. With father.” He nodded to the old man silently working next to him.

“Wow. That’s your father?” said Steve.


“Oh, really? You lived in America? Where?” I asked.

“I live in… Mo-suh-suh Lake-uh”

“Moses Lake???” I blurted, not sure if I heard him right.

Hai. Moses Lake. Washington State.”

“I’m from Washington State! Olympia. Do you know Olympia?”

“Olympia. Hai!”

“Wow. What on earth were you doing in Moses Lake?” I gasped.

“Where’s Moses Lake?” Steve chimed in.

“It’s an unremarkable town in central Washington—the last place you’d expect this guy to be holed up.”

“I work for JAL. Japan Air. With father. We make the sushi for JAL workers.”

“Oh, that’s right! They have a big airport out there. It used to be an air force base, I think. They must use it for training.”

“Yes. Tuh-raining.”

“I heard that it’s one of the alternate landing strips for the Space Shuttle.”

“Space Shuttle. Hai,” the chef enthusiastically confirmed.

“Small world,” shrugged Steve.

The man translated for his father, who stopped his work, looked our way, and grinned. The father then turned to his son and appeared to give him some sort of orders. The son bowed and immediately grabbed a white plastic container, a small net, and walked from behind the counter and out the front door. He returned a moment later with something in the container, most likely from the saltwater tank that we’d seen outside. After just two minutes, he produced a final dish and set it down on the counter: on it were two abalones, cut free from their shells. They were as fresh as it gets: still moving.

Awabi,” he said.“My father’s treat. No pay.” He quickly shook his head and made a small waving gesture with his hand, as if to say: Don’t even think about it.

The old man smiled and bowed.

“Wow. Thanks,” said an impressed Steve. “They didn’t do this last time I came,” he whispered.

Next to the shellfish sat two narrow slices of lemon.

“Use lemon. Good taste.”

“Well thank you. Uh… ari-gato go-zai-masu!” I struggled, and then, just as awkwardly, attempted a bow.

“This is a first for me,” remarked Steve, raising his eyebrows. “But I must say it looks damn good.”


We grabbed the lemon slices and squeezed away with excitement, only to watch the poor creatures convulse in agony as the lemon juice seared their flesh.

“Oh, my…” I muttered.

The two of us looked on in pity.

“This is just sadistic,” confessed a bemused Steve.

Both abalones continued to squirm and writhe, spending their last few moments of life in what had to be unimaginable pain.

“I’m not sure whether to thank our hosts or condemn them,” I remarked.

“I hear you. Whatever the case, it’s time to put these guys out of their misery.”

“Sure thing,” I said, horrified. “I’d expect them to do the same for us.”

The abalones contracted and released in a spasmodic ballet.



“Down the hatch!”

I popped the twitching mollusk into my mouth and chomped down. The flesh was a bit tough and I had to work at chewing, unleashing an explosion of sea salt and deep sweetness. The lemon juice only served to amplify the bright, fresh flavor, and for a moment, my whole mouth came alive.


Fukuoka is a city on Japan’s southern Kyushu Island and just a three-hour high-speed ferry ride across the water from our home of Busan, Korea. For much of the world, the aquatic mass that separates the two countries is known as the Sea of Japan, though Koreans universally balk at such a Nippon-centric label: They insist on calling it the East Sea, which, seeing as it’s only “east” of them, doesn’t really make it any less territorial. Perhaps a third, neutral name needs to be dreamed up by a committee in the United Nations, made up only of representatives of countries who have no horse in this particular race But whatever you choose to call it, Steve and I crossed it. It was mid-April, and we had few days off from the university, so we decided to jump on a boat and see how the folks on the other side of the water did things.

It was my first trip to Japan, and though I did have certain expectations, I was shocked at how truly different it was from Korea. Koreans and Japanese look a bit similar and do share some cultural traits, but it really stops there. To visit both nations in the course of a day is an exercise in contrasts and woke me up as to how dissimilar they actually are.

The first thing that hit me was the tranquility. The place was quiet. Granted, Fukuoka is less than a third of the size of Busan, population-wise, but the moment I walked off that ferry I could hear it or—more accurately—not hear it. I took a deep breath and felt my muscles immediately relax. Ah, calm. Urban Korea is a loud, often chaotic place: There’s really no end to the din. The constant growl of cars, busses, trucks, and motorbikes, combines with the clamor of loudspeakers from vehicles selling produce, to K-pop pumping and blaring from the fronts of phone shops, cafes, bars, and stores. And then there are the people themselves, who cackle and joke and argue and cajole at generous decibels. Koreans often like to think of themselves as quiet, when in reality they’re often just the opposite.

The Japanese, on the other hand, are truly quiet, and this became absolutely evident laid-back Fukuoka. Steve and I decided to walk from the ferry terminal to our hotel, which was located in the city center. The outlying streets were almost empty of cars, and I noticed right away that many people got around on bicycles, easy to do on the flat surface of the town. Bikes are a much rarer sight in Busan, which is a city carved into the valleys and ravines of many mountains, making pumping pedals a lot more difficult.

Steve and I strolled under overcast skies along the peaceful streets of Fukuoka, listening to the calls of seagulls while taking in the eye-catching architecture of the city’s most basic houses and apartment buildings. The Japanese have a flair for design, and this struck me hard as we made our way toward the downtown. Instead of blocky apartments, we saw small square sections pushing out from the sides of the buildings, breaking up the lines and grabbing the eye; outdoor staircases wrapped around structures in rounded, gently ascending bands, rather than the obvious forty-five degree diagonal slopes found throughout much of the world. Daring colors were employed as well, with bright greens, reds and oranges splashing out and adding some verve to what could otherwise be a dreary urban landscape. And the angles used in the building design were often unexpected and even exciting. That’s not to say that the architecture was flashy or trying to impress; like many things Japanese, it was mostly understated, something small that just changes the whole way a building is perceived–a tiny detail that makes you say think: Wow. That is cool. Korea, on the other hand—while definitely improving on their design aesthetic of late—is still all-too-often the land of the unimaginative shoebox apartment block, where the drab and literal reign. And sometimes, perhaps in reaction to this, they take things too far in the other direction, with modern buildings adopting the science-fiction strip mall look–all overdone cheap plastic and aluminum with some nifty colored lights added for effect.

Our hotel rooms were twice the price and half the size of anything we’d get back in Busan: Glorified broom closets, really. A narrow, single bed abutted the wall, with just a few feet of space to maneuver around it. A slim counter stretched out at the foot of the bed, on which was a tiny television, lamp, notepad, pen, and radio alarm clock. A chair was pushed in underneath in case you wanted to use the structure as a desk. The bathroom was an even tinier affair, with a toilet and sink crammed in with only inches between, and just a few feet from the wall to the shower/tub. This was cramped space, to be sure. It struck me just how difficult a place to maneuver this country must be truly large people.

Yes, the rooms were minute, but they were tidy, clean, well-located, and the best bargain for the buck. If you don’t count the city state of Singapore, Japan is the most expensive country in Asia, and it didn’t take long for sticker shock to set in. Almost nothing is cheap. Combine an unfavorable exchange rate with already high prices, and cash hemorrhaged.

Cash, yes, it was a concern. I had brought plenty, but knew that it could go quickly in Japan. So you can imagine my elation that night when, at the sushi joint—after taking down the tortured abalones and finishing our draft Sapporos–Steve graciously produced his card and picked up the sizable bill. Styled. As we walked away I thanked him profusely, but he just waved his hand and said, in an exaggerated Boston accent:

“Fahgitabouttit, Mr. Thahp. Just buy me a bee-ah and some wicked re-tah-ded gah-lic bread.”

Fukuoka is a town made for walking, with flat streets, conscientious drivers, and polite people. Steve and I wandered through the business entertainment district that also housed our sushi paradise. There were plenty of massage joints and karaoke rooms, advertising their wares with pictures of busty, dyed-haired girls with large, brown eyes. Clusters of suit and tie clad men wandered the sidewalks, chatted and smoked (upon discovery, cigarettes were one of the few things that could be called “cheap” in Japan). We passed by a number of pachinko parlors and even went in one to try our luck. The ringing and buzzing of the machines joined together in one massive hum that seduced and tempted, reminding me of a Vegas casino. We sat next to each other and fed coins into the hi-tech units, but were both totally baffled as to how to operate the things, and received no help from the indifferent staff. I quickly picked up on the vibe that we weren’t really wanted in the gambling den anyway, and we made for the exit.

We soon came across a regular video game arcade, which was everything I had expected to find in Japan. The place contained at least ten different versions of the crane game, with alarm clocks and stuffed animals and anime figurines and cute puppy pillows up for grabs by the mechanical claw; groups of teenage girls stood around live-action dancing games and watched their agile classmates try to match the moves demonstrated by the lit-up digital board in front of them; boys played drumming and guitar games, along with soccer, baseball, basketball, first-person-shooters and fighters. This place–along with the pachinko parlor, was the very opposite of quiet Fukuoka–with a mélange of sounds drifting and combining and clashing: Revving engines, machine gun fire, punches, techno music, screeching brakes, whirring helicopter rotors, thumping drums, screaming, laughing, along with beeps, blips and modulating tones from the eighties and beyond. In fact, it was eighties games that I was most after, and soon we came upon a huge section of nothing but vintage arcade games from the decade of my teens. I binged on Galaga, Pac-Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and was overwhelmed with giddiness when I came across a machine containing Scramble, a spaceship shooter that I loved as a kid but hadn’t seen for over twenty-five years. There I was, transported back to 1983, sitting the tiny arcade cluster of the Lacey Cinemas, killing time before a Friday night film.

After our video game orgy, Steve and I ended up at a bar popular with expats, where I freely spent the money I’d saved from dinner on beer for the both of us. Japanese beer is easily the best in Asia: It’s clean, fresh, and full of flavor, and lacking the formaldehyde and cat urine that seems to be present in so many of the continent’s lesser brews. Whether it’s cars or electronics or beer, the Japanese just do things right. They don’t cut corners and pay strict attention to the detail, and it shows everywhere. Things in Japan are just nice. Almost nothing looks shitty. My first few hours in Fukuoka made me seriously question what I was doing in Korea.

Steve and I ended up joining a group of Japanese ska heads who occupied a couple of tables. One of them was celebrating a birthday and they were freely pouring from a large bottle of Jose Cuervo. They were in full punk regalia—leather, Doc Martins, bleached Mohawks, safety pins, checkered trousers, bowler hats, tattoos—and drank with savage ferocity. I immediately liked them and joined in their madness, slamming shots and slurring in one guy’s ear about the beautiful power of punk rock.

“You like punk rock?” He said in good English. His name was Koji.

“Yeahhhhhh, man… I love punk rock.”

“Cool man,” Koji nodded. “Punk rock changed the fucking world.”

“Hell yeah!”

“To punk rock!”

“Punk rock!”

We slammed our beer glasses together and drank.

“I wanna hear punk rock now!” I yelled. His friend, a tiny girl in huge boots and black dreadlocks, handed me a shot of tequila.

“You want to listen punk rock?”

“Yeahhhhhh!!!” I yelled, downing it.

“Ok. You go to my friend’s bar. Tonight there is punk rock music.”

Koji wrote down some quick directions for me. I slapped him on the back, shook his hand, and Steve and I were off in search of the punk palace.

“How cool is this, dude,” I said. “We’re gonna see a punk show in Japan.”

“Yeah man. I can handle it.”

We hiked down the street as per the directions, until we came to the lobby of the building that housed the bar.

“This is it,” I said.

We boarded the elevator and rode it up to the sixth floor. As we exited the elevator, we stood in front of a door. Loud punk music blared out from behind. A skinny dude in black leather stood there, collecting the cover. He smoked Marlboro Reds and laughed with two his buddies, who were also fully done up in the Japanese punk rock uniform. As we approached he politely pointed to the sign, which read: 1500 Yen (about 16 or 17 dollars at the time).

“It’s a bit pricey… but screw it… we’re in Japan, what do can we do?” I slapped down the notes, got my stamp, and walked in, followed by Steve.

Like most of the places we’d been to that night, the joint was small, with a DJ spinning standard, vintage punk fare (Ramones, Buzzcocks) from a table up on a platform. We sauntered up to the bar and ordered a couple more beers, taking stock of our surroundings. A few Japanese punks were hanging out drinking, but otherwise it appeared to be empty.

We got our beers and walked around the black box of a room.

“Where’s the stage?” asked Steve.

“That is a good question.”

As we looked around more, we quickly discovered that there wasn’t one.

“I think we just paid thirty bucks to listen to a punk rock DJ,” muttered Steve.

“A punk rock DJ? Are you kidding me? There’s no such thing. DJ’s are the least punk rock people in the world.”

I angrily gulped down my beer and glared at the guy in the studded leather jacket standing on the DJ platform. He fiddled with his laptop and bobbed his head. I fought the urge to jump up there, grab his headphones, snap them in two, and force them down his gullet.

Steve continued, “Well, that’s what the cover was evidently for. I don’t’ see any band.”

“Nah, nah, nah.” I felt the tequila-stoked fire burn in my belly. “Let’s ask the bartender.”

“If he speaks English.”

“He’ll speak enough.”

We went back to the bar and got the man’s attention.

“Hey,” I yelled, over the blare of Black Flag’s TV Party. “Tonight… band?” I mimed playing the guitar. “Punk rock show?”

He shook his head no.

“No band???”

“No,” he said, turning away.

“Fuck this shit.” I moaned to Steve. “We’re gettin’ our money back. Come on.”

Steve followed me to the door. I was now loaded on beer and tequila and on a punk-fueled tear. I exited I turned to the guys collecting cover.

“Tonight, no band? Again I mimed the guitar.

“No, no,” he waved me away.

“Then we want our money back.”

He looked at me, not fully understanding.

“Money back. Yen.” I slapped my palm. “We came for band. No band. No money.”

“No. You pay.”

“No. Money back.” Slap slap.

“No no. You pay! No money back!” Vehement head shaking.

“Give us our money back! You call yourselves punks? Charging money for a fucking DJ?”

“Uh, Chris, let’s just get out of here.”

“These little assholes have the nerve to call themselves punk rock? You cocksuckers don’t know shit about punk rock! Sure you got the uniform on but that doesn’t mean anything you poser motherfuckers!”

The guy at the door had enough, and lunged at me, screaming in Japanese. His friends grabbed him before he could land a punch, and Steve pushed me into the elevator which opened up just in time. As the door closed, we heard a loud “THUNK” of the skinny dude’s boot against the metal.

“Holy shit, dude, you’re going to get us killed.”

“Sorry,” I gasped. “Punk rock my ass…”

“You’re crazy, Tharp.”

“Fuck it.” My rage now turned from hot to ticklish, and I unleashed the chaos in a series of deep belly-laughs, which echoed around the confines of the elevator.

We were both hungry now, and hoped to grab a bite on our way back to the hotel. Japan isn’t as rife with late-night choices as many other Asian countries, but they still know how to rock some after-hour street grub. We soon came upon a tent lit by a single bulb. It was empty, except for the man sitting behind several metal pans of steaming water, in which was floating an array of oteng–a kind of compressed fish paste. I had eaten the Korean version, odeng, on countless occasions; it was one of my favorite street snacks, but the way they served it up on the peninsula was no match for the sight before me.

“Oh my God! Do you see that? Is that odeng?” I drunkenly moaned.

Korean odeng comes in just one color: beige, and is almost always a square cut from a ribbon and stuck on to a wooden skewer. This authentic oteng came in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes: There were squares and triangles and orbs, made up of various shades of yellow, brown, and even red. Unlike their Korean cousin, none of them were skewered, but floated independently in the broth.

I had to have some.

“Wow. I’ve never seen anything like it.” I hovered over the hot vats of oteng in absolute fascination. “Where do you start? I want some.”

“Knock yourself out.”

“Hey, sssir!” I looked through blurry eyes to the man, who glared back wearily.

Oteng. How much?”

He looked on, unmoved.

“Hey Tharp, I don’t think he speaks English.”

“That’s okay! I’ll just point to what I want! Don’t these look fucking awesome?”

“Never been a big fan.”

“Okay, sir! I want… lemme have… let’s see…” I tottered on my feet as I attempted to make up my mind. “Lemme have the… the big round red one.” I pointed, “…and THAT one… and… and… OH YEAH! The triangle one looks great!”

The man looked down and vigorously shook his head side-to-side.

“I don’t think he’s having it,” said Steve.


“I think he’s through with you.”

“What? No way. Excuse me, sir? I’d like–”

He looked back up and shook his head again—this time more forcefully. He accompanied this with a dramatic waving of his arms, letting me know–in no uncertain terms–that my drunk ass wasn’t going to get served.

“Ah man! Come on! I just want some odeng!”

He muttered something in Japanese and further waved me away. Steve pulled me back out onto the sidewalk and we stumbled toward our hotel.

“This sucks. Motherfucker!” I shouted back.

“You were denied. You were refused odeng,” Steve said, laughing. “I’m not sure if that’s ever happened before, to anyone, anywhere.”

We ended the night in a noodle tent. Steve made me promise to ratchet it down a few notches before entering, to which I gladly obliged, having learned my lesson from the recalcitrant oteng seller. We both ordered bowls of ramen, which went down nicely after an evening of sushi and booze. When some Westerners hear the word ramen, they may picture dirt cheap Top Ramen, with its packets of MSG flavoring. That style of ramen is mainly eaten by the truly poor and broke students back home; it bears little resemblance to a real bowl of ramen sold in the tents of Fukuoka, or any Japanese city, for that matter. Proper Japanese ramen is tender to the tooth, served in a savory, rich, milky broth, and topped off with a couple of thin slices of sweet, fatty pork. It’s a glorious thing to behold and even holier to ingest, and after an evening of non-stop talking, Steve and I were left with no words–just slurping sounds—as we took down some serious noodles.


The Shinkansen rocketed at a velocity that seemed impossible. Steve and I relaxed, worked a crossword together, and watched the Japanese countryside warp by in a blur as we headed north towards the main island of Honshu, enjoying this truly remarkable mode of transport. The bullet train lived up to its reputation, reaching speeds of nearly three hundred kilometers an hour. Often, when traveling by car or even airplane, you have no sense of how quickly you are actually travelling. The Shinkansen, however, shattered all such ignorance. One glance out of the window towards the rice fields and houses flickering by, and we had no trouble fully comprehending the intensity of our trajectory.

Hiroshima sits on a wide river delta and has all the features of a modern, lovely Japanese city. The wide, tree-lined streets play host to light-rail trams; the air is clean with a taste of ocean salt; like everywhere in Japan, the sidewalks are immaculate and the shops and restaurants give off the warm glow of prosperity. Hiroshima looked like a terrific place to call home, nothing like scene of destruction that I’d come to associate it with. For most of us, it is synonymous with misery and horror. To gaze at the present day city was pleasantly jarring, however, since it looked nothing like the black and white photos of flattened and charred buildings, skeletons of vehicles, and the maimed, hopeless inhabitants that I had come to equate with the city. I knew the place had been rebuilt, of course, but I had no idea just how completely they had achieved the goal. Like Fukuoka, Hiroshima was nice. While its history may have been tragic, its present seemed nothing of the sort.

But we didn’t come to Hiroshima to marvel at its modernity: We came for the past. We wanted to pay witness to this venue of unimaginable carnage and attempt to understand—not with our minds, but with our guts—what exactly had gone down there at 8:15 in morning of August 6th, 1945. We wished to examine the scene of the crime, to pay our respect, and perhaps give penance. Most overriding, though, was the urge to reach out as humans and attempt to make sense of what can only be described as the height of inhumanity.

So Steve and I disembarked from the Shinkansen and set out for the city’s Peace Park—a memorial to the atomic attack that lies along the banks of the slow-flowing Ota River near the city center. Steve consulted the map in his guidebook, and we were immediately on our way, forcing ourselves towards the objective at a fevered pace. This wasn’t easy. Now that I was actually in Hiroshima, I fought the urge to turn around and jump back on the bullet train. Did I really want to spend my afternoon thinking of such death, along with my country’s bloody hand in its creation? But this was more a pilgrimage than a pleasure trip, and we grimly pressed     on, knowing our quest to be one of necessity.

The Peace Park is aptly named, for it was quiet, even by Japanese standards. The only sound was that of the breeze, some squawking seagulls, and the weird little pink sightseeing boats chugging up the river. Steve and I strolled along in contemplation, observing this unwritten rule of silence, hyper-aware of the fact that we trod upon hallowed ground. It was early spring and the cherry blossoms were just beginning to bloom, giving the surroundings a taste of life. But all I could think about was death. I tried to imagine the feeling of going about your business on a Sunday morning, only to be blinded by a flash, feel the air ripped from your lungs, and get hit with and incinerating blast of hellish heat. Multiply this feeling by tens of thousands of people, and the enormity becomes too much to bear. As I morbidly obsessed on these details—the melted flesh, the crisped skin, the people who were vaporized with their shadows burned into the sides of buildings—I was not overtaken with emotion. I felt no tears, or horror, or guilt even. I was strangely detached, bowing my head, walking in silence, but feeling little. I was reminded of attending mass with my family in my late teens, with the kneeling and genuflecting and mumbling of prayers. The process was supposed to infuse me with grace, but instead I was left feeling hollow and false in the knowledge that I was just going through the motions.

The most iconic structure in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park is the Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall, which is the closest surviving building to the epicenter of the bomb’s detonation. It has since been renamed the Genbako Dome, or “A-bomb Dome”, and serves as a testament to the blast. The roof of the dome was sheared off by the explosion, but the frame remains, giving the building the look of a clean-eaten carcass, a warning to other prey. It’s the one remaining relic of that terrible morning, and sends home the reality of what happened to anyone viewing it. After snapping some photographs, I just stood and looked. The emptiness inside me was now replaced with a warm, sad understanding.

Eventually Steve and I wandered up to the Peace Park’s museum, where my earlier mental speculation as to the effects of the bombing and subsequent radiation on human beings was confirmed by many graphic photographs. These pictures served as exhibits—close up shots of burned, poisoned, and misshapen people—all civilians, many of them children. I hadn’t eaten since the morning, but my hunger turned to nausea as I took in the photographic evidence of the crime. They were hard to look at but I forced myself, and I challenge anyone to do the same and not be sickened.

We spent about an hour at the museum, which included not just documentation about the victims of the blast, but information on the physics of the Hiroshima explosion, as well as extensive data on nuclear weapons in general. There were charts displaying which countries possessed the bomb, as well the estimated size of their arsenals. Unsurprisingly, the USA topped the list. The museum strove to be more than a memorial, however. It attempted to inform people about the reality of nuclear weapons and at the same time advocated for their total eradication.

As we left the museum we came upon a guestbook, which was an intriguing read. Messages from people around the world attempted to articulate the un-expressible. Most were short lines of sorrow and regret, with plenty of pleas for peace. Some of my fellow Americans left personal notes of apology, trying to put their shame and sense of guilt into words. One Canadian commenter did the opposite: She attempted to wash away culpability by reminding the world—through underlining, exclamation points, and all caps–that she was from Canada, NOT the USA, and that her nation had no hand in the bombing. The guestbook acted as part mirror, part Rorschach Test. After reading comments for ten minutes, it was time to leave my own. I picked up the pen and put it to the white paper, but paused. I attempted to form opening words, but they felt cheap and inadequate. Defeated, I set the pen down and walked away.

Stunned and somewhat shaken, we left the Peace Memorial Park and headed back into town. Though two hours of revisiting one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century had tamped down our hunger, our appetites now returned with a vengeance. It was time to eat, and soon we found ourselves in the huge, covered, Hondori Shopping Arcade, because nothing takes your mind of atomic catastrophes like the bright colors and strange flash of happy, Japanese consumerism.

For lunch we went local, sampling Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, a kind of fritter layered with egg, cabbage, bean sprouts, sliced pork, and octopus, cooked on a hot plate as we looked on. It was hearty, filling and delicious. This was some proper, regional fare and made us feel more connected to the older, non-nuclear Hiroshima.

Bellies full, we left the little restaurant and joined the shoppers in the Hondori Arcade. We had an over an hour until our train back to Fukuoka, so this market looked to be the perfect place to kill some time. Steve was looking to pick up some souvenirs, but Japan had already sapped my wallet plenty, so I was more than content to just window shop and return to Korea empty handed.

“I’m gonna check out that shop over there. Maybe pick up something for my students,” Steve said.

“Cool. I’m going to look on my own. Why don’t we meet back here in thirty minutes?”

I proceeded to walk down the arcade a couple of hundred meters until something caught my eye. It was a comic book store. While not a collector or even a huge fan of comics, I love the stores that contain them. In America I’ve spent many hours browsing through store selections–from superhero stuff to alternative to erotica—I like to check it all out, and the more obscure the title, the better. I had never been to a comic store in Japan, though. I was familiar with manga (Japanese comics) style and dabbled in reading some years before, but here I was, in Hiroshima, facing the entrance of what was the Manga Mothership. So I slipped through the threshold and proceeded to get lost.

It must be said that the Japanese are notorious perverts. They even outdo their old allies Germany in this regard. Some of the strangest sexual stuff on the internet emanates from Japan–whether it’s bukkake (a ring of men masturbating onto a woman), puke videos, or “tub girls,” with arcing shots of brown liquid from the subject’s assholes. The Japanese just seem to have an obsession with bizarre and forbidden, or at the very least, relaxed attitudes towards those who do. There’s a pervy, sexual vein running through Japanese society which they embrace openly. This was evidenced on the streets as well, with so many of the women wearing short skirts and stockings or knee-high heeled boots. So much of the fashion had a fetishistic sensibility. There’s just a sense of really kinky sexuality that pervades the country as a whole, and nowhere does this manifest itself more clearly than in manga.
This comic shop took things to a whole new level. I thought I was prepared for what I was about to see, but, in reality, I was not. And bear in mind that this was no seedy shop near the train station or off of some forlorn exit off the freeway: It was in the most famous and busiest shopping arcade in the city.

The bottom floor was made up of your run-of-the-mill manga, most all of which featured cover illustrations of young teenage girls drawn in the form’s signature style—long limbs, slim bodies, full breasts, and unrealistically huge eyes. As I walked down the aisle and eyed the covers, I saw that the comics spanned countless subjects: high school romance, baseball, basketball, idol groups, fantasy, magic, martial arts, supernatural, horror, and many more. Like most manga, eroticism was inherent in even the most innocent of titles, though I only took in a few that featured swimsuit poses and camel-toed panty shots. They were in the collection, but in the minority, and as suggestive as they were, everyone kept their clothes on, even if it was just their underclothes.

I then took the stairs up to the second floor, which was similar in tone to that of the first, though a couple degrees hotter in content. Again, I just looked at the covers:  More panties and bras, bikinis, as well as some exhibitionist and “upskirt” stuff, but still open to all ages.

The third floor was both a literal and figurative level up: only eighteen and over allowed. Gone were the innocent high school crush narratives. Everything here was about primal sexual urges: the clothes came off and the characters went at it. All the titles featured naked girls with big eyes fucking, getting fucked, being objectified, humiliated, and defiled. Orifices featured prominently. Close-up detailed drawings of juicy penetration. This was some straight-up nasty, porny stuff—explicitly portrayed right on the covers–but nothing scarring.

Then there was the fourth floor. Like the third, it had an attendant checking anyone who appeared to be of questionable age. It was on this floor where I discovered that almost anything goes in Japan, as long as it’s drawn in a semi-cute way. At first it wasn’t so bad, relatively–mainly gay comics featuring high school girls and boys. But things quickly took a turn for the vile. I spied various kinds of rape, erotic pissing, and a few books featuring very pretty girls shitting. But it didn’t stop there. This was Japan, and as I was finding out, they really like to mine the depths. As stomach churning as some of the comic covers were, they inadequately prepared me what I was to regard next: a whole aisle featuring pre-pubescent girls and pre-pubescent boys in obvious sexual situations: Illustrated kiddie porn. My first impulse was to look away, but a sinister curiosity took hold and kept my eyeballs glued to the covers: I had stumbled into dark, bizarre territory and wanted to take it all in, if only this once. I had never seen anything so manifestly taboo, and there was loads of it. A few of these titles showed shockingly young kids, some so young that they wore diapers. And it got worse as I peered on. I could feel my pulse quicken and breath grow shallower. Was this stuff for real? As my eyes scanned this gallery of finely drawn covers, I felt like I was rubbernecking a gory car crash; I was compelled to look, even though I knew the sight may make me sick. I was witnessing the unthinkable and it just got more extreme as I burrowed deeper. I had come too far to turn back and was now committed to seeing the very worst that this store could throw at me. And I got it, in the form of what can only be described as hermaphrodite toddler covered-in-come comic porn. I felt like I had just been kicked in the head. I’d had enough. I’d seen my fill and no longer felt pressed on by some invisible hand. I was dizzy and wanted to puke. I ducked my head down and locked my eyes on the exit, not looking as I got the hell out of there.

As I burst from the first floor entrance I swallowed a lungful of air in an attempt to quell the hot wind whipping forth inside of me. I wanted to smash the windows and set fire to the store. I was wrong, I thought. I was wrong about this culture, about these people, about this nation. I was momentarily convinced that Japan, for all of her beauty, cleanliness, and seeming civility, was an evil place. I told myself that something dark and terrible boiled underneath the surface, something not even concentrated fire could scour away. For a second I pondered whether the destruction wrought upon her so many years ago was such a bad thing, and then immediately felt like a heel. How could I even contemplate such a thing? I was an American in Hiroshima, the site of the darkest and most awful act in the whole history of human warfare. This atrocity had been executed just decades before by my government. Attempting to justify such a crime because I was bothered by some comic books was beyond sacrilegious. I was frightened that I could even think such a thing.

My blood was percolating, but my anger quickly began to subside and saner thoughts crept back in. Perhaps the abominations I had just observed weren’t so terrible after all, when put into a certain context. For all the sickening stuff one finds below the surface, Japan is a very safe, civilized place. Maybe they had something figured out. Maybe it’s better to recognize such taboo subjects and create a space to contain them, rather than suppress them to the point to where they burst out in more harmful ways. Maybe the Japanese are just more honest about our dark sexual impulses, and their seemingly lax attitudes reflect a more realistic approach to the problem–a kind of societal harm reduction–like experiments in drug decriminalization.

I stood there, scanning the crowd for Steve. As I gazed out at the clusters of people shuffling past the shops and restaurants under the market’s arched arcade, I thought of our sushi feast from two nights before. How sweet it had been. Japan had been good to me. I’d immediately encountered kindness, generosity, and mastery. I repaid it by getting drunk and starting a fight at the punk club. Japan responded by denying me oteng. Japan seemed like such a bright, twinkling pace, full of beauty and magic, quality and wonder. The country at times seemed to approach perfection. But putting up such an immaculate façade must be taxing. Is it any wonder things get ugly behind the mask? Should I have been so surprised that Japan had such a dark vein flowing so shallow beneath the skin?

Whatever my judgments, Japan didn’t need my approval. As I watched the citizens of Hiroshima shuffle by, they seemed relaxed and content and totally unconcerned with my petty judgments. They were pleased to be living in this exquisite house they had built, and weren’t seeking my input in the matter. Japan was kind, Japan was brutal; Japan was lovely, Japan was disturbing. Japan was anything I wanted to call it, but it wasn’t mine. So when I finally caught sight of Steve’s spectacled face, I held up my hand and waved. He walked my way and soon we were off, rocketing back towards Fukuoka and then sailing on to Busan, our home on the other side of the sea.

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