A night out in Mokdong

Last night I cheated.  I’ve been so good these last 2 weeks but last night I had a lapse.  Okay, maybe there was some peer pressure involved.  I swear it was for a good cause though!

Let me back up a minute.  I proclaimed December to be a special month, one that I dubbed “Don’t Drink December.”  Feel free to read more about it on my previous post but basically instead of drinking I am collecting funds to donate to the Philippines Red Cross for Supertyphoon Haiyan relief.  I’ve been going strong so far and raised $70!

Well anyway back to last night.  I was supposed to get dinner with some Korean friends but plans changed after fencing practice and I found myself meeting Brian and Susan (2 coworkers) at a Makeoli and Pajeon restaurant down the road.  I sat down and had a bite of the delicious Korean pancake ignoring the bowl of yellow rice wine in front of me.

Susan commented “Oh I totally forgot you aren’t drinking!  Sorry I poured you a bowl.”

She grabbed the bowl and asked “What would it take for you to drink tonight?”

I laughed.  We’ve been down this road a few times this month and I tell her I’m fine not drinking and the conversation goes back to how delicious the pajeon is and how excited we are at the new jobs & apartment.  A few moments later Sara joins us as we pay and I’m struck by a brilliant idea.

“I tell you what.  Since we are celebrating all four of us signing a new lease tonight I think I can make an exception.  But there’s a catch.  I will drink tonight if you donate to the Philippines Red Cross.”


I guess I must be a fun party-goer because I immediately was presented with $20 in donations as we walked into a Korean Barbeque.  Sara had been here before with Sejun and we are assured they have excellent Samgyupsal (pork).  I declare that I want to try a new cut of meat as we order Soju, Mekju and a thinkly sliced pile of pork.

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Gangnam to Hongdae, hookah, eating, drinking and dancing!

Saturday I got a text from an “old” friend, Sarah.  We met a little over a month ago at K-Cook delight and I immediately hit it off with her group of friends: Ciara, Taem, Elly, & Yi Young.  Unfortunately they live on the other side of Seoul and I haven’t had a chance to see them so when she told me tonight was her birthday party I knew I had to be there!

We met at Gangnam station before heading to Rainbow Hookah Bar.  Rainbow is an adorable basement lounge with a hippie decor starting when you walk in through a peace sign on the front door.  They’ve got everything from dream catchers to tie dye and rainbows around the walls with everyone seated on the floor enjoying middle eastern flavors fused with a modern flair that provides a smokey aroma.  We got great seats in a “loft” just behind the band.  Wait, there’s a band?  Sweet, I knew this night was going to be fun!


The evening started with a rum bucket, an ice mint hookah and cuban mojito hookah.  Taking puffs of the flavored tobacco we caught up and I filled them in on the recent fiascoes at my job.  Luckily I got the letter of release yesterday so I was basically celebrating my new job tonight (I’m expecting to get the contract early this week!)  The other good news is if I get this new job I’ll be working at the same subway stop as them!

Before long the band started setting up.  The hippie troupe was composed of assorted drums, didgeridoos, a guitar, bass and a drum set.  Their sound was phenomenal and filled the room as everyone swayed to the rhythm.


The band kept jamming as a saxophone came out and solo’d in between one of the drummers taking to a microphone for psuedo-scat that sounded like Korean chanting I’ve heard in Buddhist temples.  In between songs they invited everyone to come grab an instrument and join in.  I was tempted but thought I’d have some more liquid courage first.  Unfortunately their set ended before I worked up the balls to join them so I just played around with the didgeridoo while the DJ spun in the background.

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The only white-man at dinner… again

After a kick ass fencing tournament my club went out to get some samgyupsal (pork korean barbeque).  Last time we went out it was an amazing combination of great food, mekju (beer) and soju (rice wine) combined to make SoMek.  Tonight was an excellent recreation with a few surprises.


We arrived at the restaurant on the rainy Sunday night and were quickly ushered into a back room with our massive group.  The banchan (sides) were already on the table and soup was boiling away in the grill.  They provided bags for our wet coats and pillows to sit on; sitting cross legged on the floor takes some getting used to but can be quite fun!  Within a few moments the meat arrived and that wonderful aroma filled our room.CAM00929

The Korean conversation overpowered my naive language skills but I was happy to find a few Koreans with some basic English.  We spoke about fencing, told a few fencing stories and I went through my abbreviated bio.  They were surprised to learn that the “gold medalist” had only been in Korea for a few months and even more impressed that I could 1) use chopsticks 2) eat spicy food and 3) read Korean at a kindergarten level (or perhaps even lower).

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A truly Korean dinner

After getting 2nd place at my first fencing tournament in Seoul my club invited me out to dinner.  It was a successful tournament with 5 medalists from our club, Seoul Fencing Club, and I got invited to join everyone for dinner.  One catch; I was the only white guy and they barely spoke English.

The majority of the conversation was in Korean so I clearly understood none of it but was able to follow clubmates to a barbecue joint near the tournament; we sat on the floor filling up this restaurant with our group of 10 fencers.  It was a diverse group with a few highschoolers girls who were “too good to compete today” and were coaching.  After all they are the best team in all of Seoul!  We had a few young adults along with an older gentleman who was very animated and I’m sure hilarious but also embarrassed at his lack of English.

Most of the others could understand me if I spoke slowly and between their joint vocabulary we were able to have some basic conversations.  While I had seen most of them 2-3 times a week at practice this was the first time I’d really gotten to know anyone other than my English speaking fencing buddies.  I went through the basics about where I was from, that I was a teacher and broke the ice with a few funny fencing stories as the bacon-like pork belly, known as Samgyupsal, came out.


More importantly was the arrival of Mekju & Soju (beer & a rice-wine) which we combined for a more potent Somek.  It was delicious and I’m glad I learned a few of the customs earlier like not pouring your own drink how to accept/give a drink while showing respect.  With a quick “ganbei!” the drinks began flowing and the meat started grilling.


The Koreans took care of all the cooking and the banchan came out shortly after.  Conversation went back to Korean and I learned a few new words when a new banchan came out.  I didn’t know what it was but it looked spicy so I grabbed a small portion.  It was tasty and i took a little more.  This time it crunched hard.  Turns out it was fried soft shell crab and the older gentleman and bonded with me over this savory treat with another toast.


The sizzling pork created a delicious aroma and soon was ready to eat.  We dipped each piece into a sauce of our choice (I prefer the red bean paste but there was a sweet soy sauce tonight too), added garlic, potatoes, rice, sprouts, crab or whatever else we wanted to our lettuce wrap and ate up!  As usual I loved every bite; it may have been the Korean touch but it seemed like this pork was tastier than the last time I ate Samgyupsal and followed it up with some bugs…


Tonight, no bugs!  Although the crunchy crab resembled a larger cousin of bundaegi it was much tastier!  The evening got a little crazier when I looked over and half the table was gone.  I saw them huddling by the kitchen when my neighbor explained that one of the girls had a ring stuck on her finger.  I suggested using ice to try and reduce swelling but it was too late, they were already cutting it off!  The poor girl was in tears but a trooper about the whole thing while the older guys chuckled at her unfortunate situation.

I took it as an appropriate time to ask if she was right handed or left handed; upon finding out it wasn’t her dominant hand I told a few stories about some my old teammates punching walls in frustration and injuring their fencing hand.  Tonight may have embarrassed her but at least she wouldn’t leave disarmed while it healed up (oh fencing priorities).

We had a few more glasses and finished up the meal.  I think I successfully impressed my new clubmates with my fencing and 2 month old knowledge of Korean culture!  Can’t wait till the next tournament on the 24th!

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.


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!


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.