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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My first Korean Class

After an awful day at work I was happy to join my first Korean class through CulCom (Culture Community).  It was just 2 subway stops past my apartment and although I was late from talking with my principal I caught right up.

The first class consisted solely of the Korean alphabet, Hangul.  I had already studied this on my own and was able to read most words (even if it was beneath a Kindergarten pace).  In spite of my previous knowledge I found this class quite helpful because I got practice writing with immediately feedback on my pronunciation.

Owen, my teacher and the leader of CulCom, did a great job explaining some of the harder sounds and I think I actually understand the double letters now!  There are a few general rules about which vowels can be paired with others to make a double vowel and we went through the actual name of each letter.  Suddenly our class was over and it was time for me to meet my Korean students.

At CulCom you get “free” Korean lessons but need to stay and teach English to a small group of Koreans.  I didn’t mind, especially when I found out all I do is sit there and help them understand the few pages provided by CulCom.  My group had two girls: Raan & Lydia, and four boys: myself, KJ, Sam and another gentleman who didn’t join us for dinner & drinks where I learned everyone’s name (sorry for misspelling the names!).

Speaking of dinner and drinks, the chicken, mekju and games were the best part of my day.  I definitely needed some relaxation after such a crappy day and was happy to teach everyone Kings.  They loved it and I realized how useful it was for their English practice.  They had to practice rhyming, categories, saying “never have I evers” and more.  Maybe I can turn this into a classroom friendly game somehow?

Before we finished the deck Owen strolled in and grabbed a shot glass for soju.  Fried chicken arrived while we were chowing down on the banchan in between turns.  We quickly finished kings and they taught me an updated version of Daegi.  Instead of simply saying Daegi however many times you had to say someone’s name and a number; they had to repeat their name the appropriate number of times in tempo with their claps before saying another name and number.

We played a few rounds before they ordered another dish.  It came with cold noodles, a ton of spicy red sauce, veggies and

“What is that?” I asked.

“sea bugs? No that’s not it,” they said.
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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!