Korean Oktoberfest on Namhae Island – Seoul Hiking Group

Namhae, a gorgeous island of the southern coast off South Korea hosts a German Oktoberfest every year.  We arrived in the wee hours of the morning after enjoying Jinju’s lantern festival and I happily awoke to a beautiful harbor with some adorable graffiti painted along the wavebreaks.

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Our pension was a mere kilometer away from the German Village; we enjoyed coastal views and some authentic brews as we walked to the top where a small town center awaited us._DSC3228

Traditional German red rooftops reminded me of my grandmother’s hometown Dahn, a quaint German village tucked into the south-eastern Bavarian hills.  Namhae’s German Village mimicked the German style after an influx of immigrants turned it from touristic to authentic.

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Before the parade began we happily joined some German men for a barbecue in their backyard.  Homemade brats and buns were certainly a highlight of the day, second only to the ongoing party at the top of the hill.

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knickknacks were for sale in every shop and even at a few garage sales. Most of them were German trinkets but I liked these elephants the best 🙂

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Beef Sushi?

Saturday night my coworker’s brother arrived.  A few of us met up with Sejun, our Korean friend, and went out for the usual Korean BBQ.  The evening started off as usual with Sejun and I strolling the streets with a brew.  He informed me that although it is perfectly legal he cannot do it alone.  I can, foreigners can, but if he were to drink on the street alone or with other Koreans it would be highly frowned upon.  Another tradition he gets to avoid with us is being required to order food whenever you sit down at a table.  Most places won’t let you simply drink; everyone has to order food too.  That standard changes for foreigners so when he comes out with us we usually only need 1 dish for the whole table but, I digress.

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We met my coworker’ Sara, her brother Angelo and his friend Jack near the Hyperion Towers and the Omokgyo subway stop.  They had just gotten off of a 17 hour flight from the states and were excited to get the taste of inflight meals out of their mouth.  Sejun insisted that we have beef sushi; we didn’t quite know what it was but of course were ready to try something new.  We ordered some pork too and the banchan (sides) quickly arrived.

We tacked on a few beers and soju to the order, taught the newcomers “ganbei” (a Korean toast) and started to get to know each other.  Moments later our food arrived; we didn’t realize the beef sushi was in fact nothing like sushi.  It was ground beef with all kinds of seasonings (I recognized oil & garlic but can’t say what else was in it) with an egg yolk in the middle.  Sejun mixed it all up and we dug in; it was delicious!

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At this restaurant we were given the scissors and tongs and had to do all of the grilling ourselves.  At some BBQ places the wait staff will cut and flip it for you here we did all the grilling.  We ate the meal traditionally by wrapping the meat, some red paste, sprouts, garlic and whatever else we wanted in a lettuce leaf.   The oils dripped out and made a mess for most of us while one of the newbies struggled with chopsticks.  Sejun seemed to be the only one that didn’t have trouble but we certainly all enjoyed it.  The smells coming from the grill kept you hungry the whole meal and we devoured the rest of our order.

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There’s white people here too?

Friday night was my first time in Itaewon.  It’s known as a very expat-friendly part of the city often with more foreigners than Seoulites.  The plan was to find some good beer and food at an American pub called Dillingers. Getting off the subway it looks like any old part of Seoul, that quickly changes.
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Walking down the main strip in Itaewon it is clearly a tourist area.  There are souvenir shops all over with everything from carved figurines to Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts. In other areas these shops have local goods, fruits, veggies and other Korean delicacies.  In Itaewon you hear English, a lot.  It’s actually a little strange to hear so much of it and so little Korean; I guess that means I’m getting used to being here. There were boarded up shops covered in graffiti that reminded me of Brooklyn but perhaps that’s because this was the first English graffiti I’ve seen. Along the busy streets are an unusual amount of English advertising with very few Korean signs.
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We got to Dillingers and were greeted by the only Koreans at the bar (the staff).  All the customers were white and there was a local hockey team drowning their sorrows away from the evening’s loss.  We quickly placed our orders for import beers, burgers, wraps and sandwiches.  I ordered bangers and mash since I still remember the fantastic burger I grilled only a few weeks ago.
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Our beer arrived first, noticeably pricier than the local Cass that is typically found in the restaurants but worth every penny.  I’ll have to find a German pub nearby so I can get a good Hefe since unfortunately the best option they had here was Red Rock, by the end we built up quite a tab of the stuff. Just as we started drinking the hockey team broke out in O Canada! Clearly some of their teammates weren’t Canadian because they followed up with the Star Spangled Banner. I decided to show my patriotic side and went over to join them. We made a quick toast to the good ole US of A and I went back to start eating.

Conversation bounced between scandalous stories, travel, religion and of course our current predicament at school.  We haven’t had any news but are hoping the administration’s promise that the rest of the paycheck will arrive by Tuesday the 23rd (already absurdly too long) isn’t just another lie.  I’m less worried about that since I’m not owed any money yet but I fear for their ability to pay everyone in full on October 5th when I should receive my first paycheck.

With all of this going on I updated my resume and am reaching out to the few schools I have a connection at.  For the right job I’d leave CPIS even if they get their finances sorted out.  I always knew that teaching at a hagwon was merely a way to get my foot in the door and get to the far-east and am actually a little excited at the idea of teaching at a legitimate international school.

But anyway, back to dinner.  We gobbled down our meals and a few more beers.  My bangers were great but not enough so I gave their calamari a shot too.  It was a meatier calamari than I’ve ever had and I loved every bite of it. I wouldn’t call it a great Italian dish but the seafood here is all fantastic and fresh; plus they love squid, you can even buy a dried squid at 7-11 for an evening snack.

After eating we mozied over to the dart boards, apparently a rarity in Korea, and continued the evening with a competitive edge.  I won the first game and lost the second. Guess I should have retired while I was ahead. Or maybe my friends get better when they’re drunk?
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A few more beers and we decided to head back home before the subway stopped running.  Some of us wanted to keep the night going so we went to one of our favorite local bars; I only know it as K-bar.

A pitcher of Cass, a bottle of soju and pop rocks were brought almost instantly when of course the discussion went to food.  What to order?  I fought hard for pig intestines after it was jokingly mentioned.  I seriously wanted to try it, but alas, we didn’t order it that night.  Soon they said, at a better restaurant than our favorite cheap pub.

A few drinking games later we began making some Korean friends.  I found that typically there are a couple Koreans in each group with basic English and that between all of our combined bilinguality we can hold a group conversation. “How old are you?” seems to be the most common thing asked which is amusing because Koreans look about 1/4 their age compared to us whiteys.

As we finished our drinks we realized how late it was and decided to head home. Outside of my apartment I noticed what looked like quite a drunk couple. I grabbed a giant bottle of water and went down to offer some assistance. When I arrived she had left and he informed me that he was my downstairs neighbor. Sang-ho had very little English but had a fantastic translator app so we had a small conversation as I realized he wasn’t actually that drunk. Being a good host I took this as a sign that I should open another beer.

We hung out for a while at my apartment talking about how I just got to Korea and my job. He was astounded by my salary which was almost twice what he is making. Salary also is a pretty common question; I find it a bit strange but don’t mind sharing the info. The most memorable part of our conversation was when he kept insisting he wasn’t gay and that I shouldn’t steal his girlfriend. I lightened the mood with a quick toast before promising that those conditions were perfectly acceptable to a new friendship. We exchanged emails before realizing it was nearly 2am and deciding it was time for bed.

All in all Itaewon is fun but I still am enjoying the novelties of Seoul. I’m sure I’ll be back when I get a hankering for a good burger but for now I think I’ll stick with being immersed in an unknown language.

Rough day? How about dinner with baseball and beer!

So life at the school may be a little off right now but at least there’s new restaurants to try!

Tonight I stopped at a restaurant on the way home. It was raining but after a coworker lent me an umbrella (still need to buy my own) I decided to walk and clear my head. This joint had a full picture menu and a baseball game on. I was easily swayed.

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I made use of my first call button which seems to be a staple here and placed an order for what looked like veggies on a bed of lettuce with either chicken or pork. The waiter came back a moment later to tell me “very hot.” I asked for mild with a few gestures and he said no, making the Korean X. He pointed to another picture and said “garlic,” it looked like a pile of chicken. Sounds good. I gave him a thumbs up and nodded with an affirmative “Ne.”

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My sides arrived, this time buttered popcorn and a plate of the pickled white things (radish or maybe turnip, I still don’t know) I had a red sauce and forks. Wait, what!  Forks?  I asked for chopsticks with a few more hand signals and again received another Korean X. Oh well, I guess after this week at school a few Western comforts should be enjoyed.

Speaking of which there’s a game on. SK Wyverns are beating Kia Tigers 2-0.   Looks like I’m rooting for Kia, I always pick the underdog.

Holy hell, 139 MPH pitch from Kia!  What do they put in the water here?  While its raining nonetheless. Wait a minute. That pitcher is white!  Oh duh. Its in KPH. Whoops.

Well, chicken arrived with the white stringy veggie and pink sauce.  It looks delicious, even if its just fried chicken caked in garlic.  My main complaint is that there are too many bones. I dont mind chicken with bones but this looks like they just arbitrarily cut a whole chicken. Unfortunately many bites come away with little bones as if it was fish. Anyway back to being distracted by the game.

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Another white pitcher comes to the mound as my Tigers take the plate. Before I know it there’s a full count and Asian #1 gets walked. Tying run is at the plate, its only the bottom of the second when he swings and strikes out. Another ball and 2 fouls when suddenly Asian #3 clobbers the ball. Its going back to the wall and its outta here!  Tie game and its time to order a beer.

The chicken was alright. I wouldn’t order the same meal again but am willing to give this place another shot. A few scoreless innings went by and they just switched it to KFA (Korean Football Association) aka soccer.  While I like soccer, the game hasn’t even started and I’m done eating. Sounds like its time to head home and find an escape in Westeros.

Chicken for dinner. I think?

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I just ordered chicken.  I think?  Some restaurants in Seoul have pictures in their menu but, so far, I haven’t found any with English menus.  I’m pretty sure I’m getting Chicken.  Scratch that, I hope I’m getting chicken.  When the waitress responded to my finger on a picture she started rambling in Korean.  I understood “hot” and I said no, made a hand gesture that I think she understood to be mild.

As I’m sitting here writing, side dishes keep coming to the table.  I’ve got some kind of bready-snack in little O’s, most are beige except for the occasional green or orange one.   They all taste the same.  I’ve got white cubes that are definitely pickled but can’t tell what veggie and some white stringy veggie with a pink sauce.  These weren’t in my picture of chicken, don’t know what they are but they taste damn good!

I picked this mom and pop joint because they had chicken in the window and a lot of Koreans were eating here.  I figure an empty restaurant is a sign from the locals but I’ll tell you later if it was a good choice.  My chicken just arrived!

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Okay, those were definitely hot peppers; and they make jalepeno’s from back home look like the rejects from an elementary school play, where everyone gets a part.  Aside from the overly spicy garnish this dish was amazing!  The chicken was delicious but even at “mild” it warranted a glass of Cass Fresh to cut the heat.  The sides went well with the sauce and took some of the edge off too.  Definitely gonna hit this place up again, but first I’ve gotta polish off the leftovers. Its safe to say I did in fact get chicken.