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Seoul Cough still present, if anyone’s taking score.

Last Sunday, a whole gang of people including Derek and Brant came down to my area for a hockey game at the stadium next to my place. I still can’t believe the luck I have of living not only next to a beautiful mountain but being conveniently next to professional sporting events, even though I’m not a big sports fanatic.

The game was a home game for the Anyang Halla (I think it’s Korean for ‘polar bear’) and a team from near Seoraksan. They have cool uniforms, and a few Americans and Canadians are on the team.

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I’m no expert on hockey. When I was growing up in Alabama, my dad would take me to college hockey games for the University of Alabama in Huntsville Chargers. When I saw a puck fly out of the ring and hit this poor old lady in the face, I knew right away that it was my favorite sport. It’s not because I got any pleasure out of watching an elderly person getting hurt. It was that this was a spectator sport with an added element of danger.

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To me, it seemed that the Halla weren’t so good at controlling the puck, but they were an aggressive team. We saw a good share of fights. We had seats above one of the goals, and many of them happened right underneath us. The puck flew in our direction a few times too. Even though we’re protected by a net, there’s enough slack in it so that the puck will knock you in the face pretty hard before landing back in the rink if you’re in the front row.

This was great entertainment for $6. Even though they scored the first goal, the Halla lost. There were Canadians sitting behind us making fun of the American on the other team. I don’t know how it happens, but I always end up sitting in front of the most obnoxious hecklers at sporting events.

After the game, Jeremy and Liz met us. We all walked down to the Dong Dong Ju Place for another round of boribap, beautifully smoked chicken, and that sweet alcoholic nectar of the yangban, dong dong ju. We all had a good time, and I always feel good after eating there. Again, it’s a rare thing to go drinking and the drinking food is actually healthy for you.

We then headed to the Beomgye Station area, which was a long walk for many in the group, where we saddled at the Atlanta bar. I’m not sure if I mentioned much about this before, but it’s Lars’ new favorite bar in Anyang. It serves popcorn from a classic movie popcorn machine. It plays music video DVDs on a large screen. And it has a large and fairly reasonably priced international beer selection. We also noticed that it’s a favorite hangout for Anyang foreigners, and they seemed a lot more sophisticated than the losers I remember from Habana in Ansan. (Oh, dem’s fightin’ words!)

The week at work seemed slow. No major events happened. I just was fighting the Seoul Cough throughout the week.

Thursday was our monthly field trip, and we went to some botanical park at the foot of the mountain in Anyang. It was great because we were the only group in the park. At one point, we had to cross a stream that was flowing over the path. I jumped in the stream like a child jumping in a puddle.

This idea had consequences.

The children all rushed towards the stream and jumped in it, splashing and having a great time. They went further and further out into the stream and started playing King of the Hill on a rock. It was then that I decided that we should call off the fun before someone got majorly hurt. So we spent a good thirty minutes or so wringing out clothes and trying to dress each child. We then carried each one over the stream on the path back so as not to tempt them to go back in.

We had a picnic outside the park, and it was nice. The parents supply the teachers with food on field trips at this school, and it’s fascinating to see what home cooking they come up with. It’s usually different kinds of kimbap and fruit. I was happy to have some fresh peach slices in the mix and a half-frozen ice coffee. Unfortunately, one of my favorite students got stung by a bee, and I held her close and put a bottle full of frozen pear juice to her head to stop the swelling.

The major event for the week, I guess I can talk about here because it’s now very public knowledge.

I got a call from SJ Tuesday night saying that Brighton was begging her to substitute for a few classes.

Why?

Jeremy, Liz, and the two Newfies left the school all of a sudden. They pulled a midnight run.

It was a great shock, and I called around to get more information. I was very worried that something had happened to them. I now know that they had to leave for a major personal emergency. I’m glad they’re okay, but I’m very sad to have them leave. I was surprised at how sad I was. They were really close friends, some of the closest I’ve had in years. And it kills me that they are no longer in Ansan. We can no longer hang out together. I have officially lost my last connection to Brighton and my old life in Ansan.

I have been trying to take good care of myself culinarily this week. I’ve been making and eating a lot of Ssam bap — rice with vegetables wrapped in lettuce. The main reason for this is that I have found this really good soybean/pepper paste at the grocery store that is rice, chunky and stinky like a rich sinful cheese. It’s called Samgyeopsal Ssam-Jang, which means that it’s to be used with samgyeopsal. It is so good that I have been just sticking my finger in it and licking it off. It’s so nasty it’s good.

This has been an important weekend in Seoul. An ancient canal has been in the rebuilding stages through the middle of downtown. This weekend, they released the waters. This is significant because not only had that canal been there a long time, it was filled in by the Japanese during the occupation. So it was another day affirming Korean independence and healing a scar that many of us have a hard time understanding.

We’re having another three-day weekend this weekend. But this is our last holiday until Christmas. Eun Jeong has stayed over this weekend, and it has been nice with a steady rain from Friday to Saturday. We are getting along so much better all the time. I’m scared to type that because I know it’ll jinx us.

We have been cooking together a lot more, and our meals turn out to be true fusion cuisine. Friday night, she was badly craving my spaghetti. I taught her how I make the sauce, and she added her own mixture of green peppers, onions, and mushrooms. I also successfully improvised a minestrone using Korean neangmyeon stock as my base and a rare can of stewed tomatoes I found at a grocery store.

Saturday night, Eun Jeong made her first recipe from the first cookbooks she bought, which was seasoned rice wrapped in bacon.

Today we ventured out to other parts of my neighborhood to explore the shops. I found something for my mother at a cool little clothing shop. We also came across a guy selling wares from a truck that we in traditional English would call a “tinker.” He sold these wonderful antique chests of drawers and vases, but his specialty was selling and sharpening knives. If I had more money, I would buy a crapload of knives from him. They were gorgeous. Instead, we got a deal on a marble mortar and pestle for 10,000 won.

After we bought it, Eun Jeong again experienced the annoyance we foreigners have with children following us and talking about us like we’re zoo animals. These young kids were following us, and every now and then this slightly older girl on rollerblades would come next to us and say, “Miguk saram (American person).”

I said, “Yeah, yeah, Miguk saram.”

We stopped, and the children got brave enough to approach us personally. One of the children showed me a clear plastic egg container he had with a freaky yellow mottled spider inside. I asked him about it in Korean and then told him it was a “spider” in English.

“Oh, spider! Spiderman!”

They were overjoyed. The girl on rollerblades asked Eun Jeong if I was American or Korean because my Korean was so good.

My Korean really isn’t that good, but Koreans seem so surprised to see that foreigners can adapt to their language and culture. That’s my impression.

We ventured so far out, that I think we were near Christina’s place, around two subway stops away. We found a place that sold whole ducks for 8,000 won each. Instead of the duck, we picked up some shrimp. I was in the mood to do a Cajun dinner for the evening.

Eun Jeong loves my shrimp boil. She’s loves my cocktail sauce even better. So she suggested a different way of cooking the shrimp — Se-u Sogum Kui — Salt-grilled shrimp.

When we got home, she lined a pan with aluminum foil and covered it with a thick layer of salt. She then turned the gas on high and lay the shrimp down on the salt and covered it. This really was something we should have done outside. The smell was intense, but it reminded me of the ocean. With later batches, we experimented with putting Old Bay seasoning on top of the shrimp.

While Eun Jeong took care of the shrimp, I made red beans and rice. I was happy to find a store that sold canned kidney beans. I had to introduce Eun Jeong to this Cajun classic. I also wanted to see if I could mimic the dish in Korea. I grew up on Popeye’s fried chicken with red beans and rice and was disappointed to not see them on the menu at Popeye’s in Korea. The thing with beans in Korea is that they are mostly used as an additive to rice, a holdover from the rice scarcity during the Japanese occupation.

I added some of the German bratwurst to the red beans for extra protein and to entice Eun Jeong some more because she is addicted to the Costco bratwurst.

Like the Coq au Vin, she felt the dish was very exotic for her taste. Nonetheless, she ate a lot of it. The shrimp turned out great, and the cocktail sauce was very hot with wasabi. Eun Jeong has gotten me used to the idea of eating shrimp with the shells on. If cooked correctly, shrimp shells are perfectly edible.

We ate and watched “Iron Chef America” while Iron Chef Bobby Flay again screwed up another match as he burned stuff and dropped stuff all over the place.

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