Friday, October 30, 2015

More Sites in Ulsan, South Korea

Since we have been visiting in Ulsan, South Korea for two weeks, we should be running out of things to see and do.  But there are so many nice parks and beaches in the area that we continue to get to see new things every day.  We think that Brian and Alexia are so lucky to be just minutes away from the Sea of Japan and several different beaches.  This day we went to a black sand beach, and got a close up of the tiny pebbles that give the beach its color.

We are spending the afternoon at Jujeon Park, and the boys are busy building a sea wall to measure the high tide that is coming in.

Meanwhile, Denisa and Katrina are playing chicken with the tide.  This game is played by standing in the shallow water for as long as possible as the tides come in . . .

and then running as fast as possible towards the beach when the waves come in to keep our rolled up jeans from getting wet.  Our wet jeans were evidence that many times we weren't fast enough.

We took some pictures of the youngest generation of Engelman kids on the beach,

as well as a picture of a couple of old Engelmans that are visiting South Korea.

Our next stop is Sepyeong Park - better known as the tree house park.  South Korea has invested a lot of money in nice outdoor areas, and it was fun discovering new ones.

This huge tree house had animals carved into its trunk, just like the "tree of life" at Disney.

We played here on the swings and slipper slide on another beautiful day.  We have had great weather most of the two weeks since we've been visiting, with only half a day of rain.

Next door to the treehouse park is a miniature city, with child-size store fronts and roads.  We visited the fire house for a picture of Camden, Cole, and Katrina as firemen.  The children are out of school all this week, and that is one of the reasons that we chose this time to visit.  It's great to have them to play with all day!

On our one rainy day, we headed to the city to do some shopping.  Once the rain clouds rolled out, we headed to one of the tallest apartment buildings in Ulsan to visit our new friend, Cathy.  She and her husband Karl are also expatriats from the United States while he works on a big project for his company.  We parked in the garage under the Exordium tower and took a long elevator up to the 53rd floor where their apartment is.  It is such a long ways up that our ears needed to pop on the elevator.

The views from that height were beautiful, and we could see the river that runs through Ulsan.  We could even see all the way to the ocean and the yard area where Karl and Brian are in charge of building the biggest off-shore drilling rig in the world.

Ulsan is a city of one million people, and at this height we could look down on the apartment buildings all over the city where all those people live.

We also got to visit Winnnie, Cathy's cat.  Winnie is an American cat that seems to like her life in a high-rise apartment building in South Korea.  She travels back to the United States with them several times each year, so she has more international flight time than we do.

We are having a great time visiting South Korea, and we have certainly been blessed with the time we are getting to spend with our relatives living here.  Fall is a beautiful time to be here, as evidenced by this tree at the park.  We have also enjoyed having a computer and wifi at their house that has allowed us to post blogs regularly.  But today we are taking the next step on our Asia Adventure.  We will be flying to Japan, where we will be skipping all over the country living out of our backpacks.  So this might be the last blog that gets published for a while.  We'll finish up blogs on the last days of our time in Korea later, and blog about our time in Japan as soon as we can!

We love Korean BarBQ (and other miscellaneous yummy things!)

We are finding that traditional Korean food is not on the top of our favorite food list. Kimchi seems to be on the menu at every Korean meal, so we have tried it many times.  We read that the average Korean consumes 40 pounds of kimchi per year.  It is a fermented cabbage dish that also includes red pepper sauce so that it is red in color.  Denisa loves all of those ingredients, so she had planned to like it.  But it must be an acquired taste, and she never did acquire a love (or even like) for kimchi in the two weeks we visited Korea.

What we did love about the traditional food here is the Korean BarBQ.  The picture below was taken after the meal, but shows our seating arrangement for the meal.  Seats with backs were placed on the floor, and twelve of us were seated around a table with two grills fitted into the table.  We each had a five-inch bowl as our serving plate, and there seemed to be hundreds of little bowls filled with mysterious side dishes when we arrived.

The side dishes are collectively called banchan, and they included uncooked salads made of bean sprouts and grated cabbage to red bean paste and broth soups.  Of course, there was also the ever-present kimchi.  There were also fresh lettuce and a sea weed leaf called myeongi to use as wraps for the meat.  These were shared sides that were passed (and largely ignored) around the table.  Then the glowing coals arrived for the main course.

The top grade Korean beef arrives on the table, and we begin to grill.  You notice from the picture below that the adults are armed only with chopsticks.  This can be a great diet plan for beginners like the two of us.  You can only consume what you can successfully transport to your mouth with those chopsticks.  We each had a bowl of bop (rice) that we were glad to find was the sticky variety so we got more than one grain at a time.

We are eating tonight compliments of friends Jason and Natalie in celebration of our nephew Brian's birthday.  Jason and Brian are doing the grilling at one end of the table, while Denisa and Alexia are grilling at the other.  We have discovered that cooking scissors are wonderful tools to have in Korea, as we can cut up that tender steak into bite-size pieces quickly.  Then it can be easily eaten with chopsticks.

The meal is finished with a savory soup called dwenjang chigae.  We got a spoon to eat the soup, and it was good with our leftover bop.  We think it is interesting that the Koreans have soup for "dessert."  This might be the reason that we haven't seen any over-weight Koreans while we have been here.

The name of this restaurant is Chakangogi, and it is a favorite for the children.  This is because it also has fruit smoothies for them after the meal.  There is also a small area with games and an undersized coin-operated horse for rides afterwards.

But the real treat after dinner tonight was a trip to the Ilsan Beach for fireworks.  Any day of the year there will be fireworks available for sale right on the beach.

With a little adult supervision, we had roman candles and sparklers on the beach.  We had six children and six adults, so it was great fun!

We were actually blessed with two Korean BarBQs while we were visiting for two weeks!  We picked Brian up at work another evening and got a view of the sunset over the yard that builds huge off-shore drilling rigs.

We also got to see a few of the hundreds of scooters parked along the road.  These scooters seem to be the preferred method of transportation for the thousands of men working in the ship yards.

After picking up Brian, we were on our way to our second Korean BarBQ, this time at Fire Beef.  Again, we had a table full of miscellaneous sides and a grill in the middle of the table. 

One of the side dishes appeared still bubbling from the heat of the oven.  This was an egg dish, and one of the family favorites.

One of the side dishes that was not a family favorite were the roasted silk worm larvae.

The family favorite thing is watching first-time visitors taste the larvae.  Denisa and Mark are smiling now, but we have no pictures of them searching for their water glasses to wash that nasty larvae down.

The unique thing about Fire Beef is that they do the cooking for you right at your table.  There is direct fire from something that looks like a blow torch that sears all the edges.  This is also a good picture of more of those Korean side dishes that we sampled.

After the first searing, the cooking of the beef is finished with a giant pillar of fire that caused Katrina to hide behind her Father.

In addition to BarBQ, we have found other foods we love in South Korea.  We love making the trip to the bakery just up the hill from the foreigner's compound.

Some days we have arrived too early, and the bread was too warm to run it through the automatic slicing machine.  But this day we got two multi-grain artisan loaves--fresh sliced and delicious!

We have also discovered that the basement food courts inside department stores are great places to eat.  This day we found the prettiest frozen fruit bars ever.

We can also report that they were not only beautiful, but also delicious!

We have found that trips to department stores and grocery stores are adventures.  The shopping carts are unique, but very well thought out.  Some of them have a spot for a cell phone and a water bottle molded into the handle.

Because land is a premium commodity, everything has multiple floors, and parking is always hard to find.  Grocery stores might be 4 or 5 stories tall, so there are sloped moving sidewalks that move the customer (and the shopping cart) up to the next floor.  The cart actually has special wheels that lock into place for its journey up and down the slope.  Alexia was glad to have Mark to drive the heavy cart around.

As big as those tall grocery stores are, we  found that many items that are common in the United States, just aren't available anywhere in South Korea.  When we needed puff pastry, it was no where in the grocery store.  But Alexia did find that a local bakery would make it from scratch.  We found that ordering 2 kilos is a lot of puff pastry, so we just had to find good uses for it.  Making huge apple turnovers was another delicious South Korea experience.

Even though many things are different, some things remain the same.  Starbucks are found all over South Korea, even though the shape of the building may be quite unique to the area.

As much as we loved Korean BarBQ and the special tastes of South Korea, we have to say that our favorite cuisine of our stay was all the wonderful home-cooked meals that Alexia prepared. Thanks for all the food memories!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Riding the Seoul Train to Seoul

We recognize that we have miss-spelled "soul train," but this time we were on a bullet train ride to Seoul.  Brian and Alexia even reserved the family seats that provide a table between four facing train seats.  That makes for a table to eat breakfast and snacks, as well as to play board games during the journey.  These family seats are a precious commodity, and you literally have to provide birth certificates to prove that they will be used for family members.  We had three other seats besides those four family seats, and Denisa and Camden are modeling the regular seats in our group.

We packed breakfast for our early morning train ride, and Brian (whose initials are B.A.E.) is posing with one of our new favorite fruits--the BAE.  The bullet train makes several stops in our journey, but we are speeding by at 300 kilometers (about 184 miles) per hour.  That makes a trip that would take five hours to drive in a car, into a two hour train ride between Ulsan and Seoul.

First stop in Seoul is our hotel that is close to the train station.  The Four Points Sheraton starts on the 19th floor, with office space in the levels closer to the street.  So we have a great view of the city of Seoul from our 23rd floor window.  That's the train station in the foreground, and a little peek of the hills that surround Seoul in the right hand background.

This picture from the bathroom proves that we are staying in a swanky place for our weekend trip to Seoul.  We had to giggle at all the options available for the toilet, as well as the telephone nearby for making bathroom phone calls.

We also had to take a picture of the room service menu, which looked a little pricy.  We've never eaten a sandwich that cost 34,000!  It's a good thing that price is quoted in won.

We spent the first day visiting friends that work at the US Embassy in Seoul.  Their house is inside the US army base in the middle of Seoul.  This old base hosts old trees with huge leaves!

We toured the army base (and its playgrounds), ate lunch with the King family, and ended the day at a huge cookout hosted by the Embassy association.

The next day we played tourist, starting the morning with a sumptuous meal at their favorite breakfast café.

Down the street we see a huge finger on the sidewalk.  We wonder what it might be pointing to . . . .

It's a gorilla climbing up the building, of course.

Next stop is the Gangnam area of Seoul--known for its high-end shopping and car dealerships.  Now it is also famous for the Gangnam Style song and dance that went viral on You-Tube.  We did the dance on the street while the song played in the background.

Next stop is the Olympic Stadium, home of the 1988 summer games.  There are statues along Olympic Drive of the sports hosted here.  Korea will be host to the Olympics again in 2018.

We jump out of the van and run behind the stadium when we hear and see interesting things.  We got to see a motorcycle race first,

and then discovered men readying high speed toy boats for a race on the river.
We stayed long enough to watch these big boy "toys" jetting across the Han River that winds its way through Seoul.

All this traveling around town is facilitated by Mr. Li.  Recommended by the hotel as an international driver, he stays with us all day to transport our group of 7 all over the city of Seoul.  Mr. Li smiled broadly when the children sang the Korean National anthem for him.  They are learning all the national anthems of all the countries represented at their school, and today that knowledge certainly surprised our driver.

We then headed to the Itaewon section of Seoul, to do some shopping and visiting the Korean War Museum.

The entire outdoor section is filled with tanks and planes that the children enjoyed climbing all over.  
 "Children" would of course include Mark.  After climbing into and all over the planes and tanks, this picture shows him maturely looking over the parking lot of full-size war toys.  In the background on the far left we can see Seoul Tower.  We won't have time for that tourist attraction this time.
 We drive by one of the few surviving sections of the ancient walls of the city of Seoul.
Our next stop is Gyeongbokgung Palace.  The place is packed and traffic is a mess in this area.  There's something about a beautiful Sunday afternoon that brings everyone to the palace.  Personally, we only came for the huge cotton candy.  Of course, one isn't enough for 7 people so we downed two of those fluffy floss balls before we got to the palace.

At the gate to the palace stands the stern-looking guards.  Standing perfectly still, at first you must assume that they are mannequins.  But we saw one of them wink at Cole.
Their job is to stand perfectly still without changing expression, posing with all the tourists.  They do their job well.

Then they spring to life to begin the changing-of-the-guard ceremony.  More guards appear to join the "mannequins," and then a whole new set will come to take their place.

We notice that all the guards have fake beards and mustaches.  Does this mean that Koreans don't grow facial hair?  All this pageantry is going on in the palace court yard.  We couldn't help but notice the dichotomy of old vs. new in this picture with the mirrored wall skyscraper in the background.

There are hundreds of people that have come to watch the changing of the guard ceremony this afternoon.  Most are dressed in today's fashion.  But there are a few dressed in the traditional Korean dress called a hanbok.

We were ready to take a family picture in the palace court yard, when a Korean girl asked to take a picture with Brian and Alexia's family.  Then another showed up and handed Mark and Denisa their camera to take a photo with the family.  Then another woman sidled up next to them and had a friend take a picture.  It wasn't long before a line formed to take pictures.  Mark and Denisa continued taking pictures for Koreans that wanted to be standing next to this cute young American family.  They have gotten this rock star treatment many times since they moved to South Korea, but it was very interesting for us to witness it too.  Incidentally, no one wanted a picture with us.

Our next stop is Insadong, where there is literally fighting in the street.  We watch as the traditional Korean fighters put on a show for the crowd.

This area is crowded on a beautiful weekend!  But there are lots of fun things to see and do in Insadong.  One of our favorites was watching a food demonstration.  He started with a simple square of hardened honey.

Using only white cornstarch to keep it from getting sticky, the warmth of his hands allowed it to stretch into a continuous loop.

We watched in amazement as he continued to stretch that loop and then twisted it to make two loops.  He continued to stretch and twist, each time doubling the number of loops in his hand.  He counted the loops as they formed--2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 . . .   They became threadlike as the number of loops exceeded 6,000!
The next step is winding the hair-like twisted honey strands around chocolate or nuts and forming amazing bite-size candy treats that are nestled into boxes of ten.
Of course we had to buy a box to taste them.  We couldn't read any of the Korean words on the box, so we lovingly nicknamed them "hairy chocolates."  They tasted pretty good if you could get past the hairy texture of the twisted honey.

We stopped for a meal of fast food--Korean style.  We ate our fill of dumplings at a little street café and became big fans of steamed dumplings.

The children had Turkish ice cream for dessert.  But they had to work for their ice cream.  The guys dishing up the cones were great at trickery, and it was hard to catch those cones attached to their stick. The audience is obviously enjoying the ice cream show as well.  About the time that Katrina thought she finally had her dessert, he suddenly slipped the ice cream out of her cone.

Cole thought he finally got his ice cream, and you can see that it is double stacked, and the trickster will take away the top ice cream cone leaving Cole with an empty one.

Our day in Seoul was so much fun, but we were tired by evening.  Mr. Li shuttled us back to the station to catch the evening "Seoul train" back to Ulsan.  We played games for the two hour ride home, and reminisced about our great day in Seoul.  Thanks Brian, Alexia, Katrina, Camden, and Cole for another great day in South Korea!