Kimchi Pots

You ever have one of those weeks when everything seems right in the world?

I know… it’s making me nervous.

It started early in the week with the U.S. elections. Anyone who knows me well knows my political background. I used to run a political web site and was associate producer for The Thom Hartmann Program. Needless to say, I’m not used to winning. I’m used to Quixotic crusades.

It’s strange that just two or three years ago, my views were considered radical. Now they’re the mainstream.

Anyway, enough politics. I find it tasteless when people mix their politics with blogging (ahem, Marmot) when it’s not specifically a political blog.

Last Saturday, we had a meeting with my old student Jack and this mother. We wanted to thank them for helping us out with the Unnamed Hagwon case. Jack’s mother was looking for a decent English school for Jack. She also wanted to get an honest evaluation of Jack’s level. We suggested C.E.A.’s level test, which takes a good hour and is thorough.

On Wednesday, they showed up for the test. Chris was honest with them. Jack speaking ability is good. He needs help with his grammar and spelling. Jack’s mother was happy enough to actually sign up with the school, and Jack was put in my class. Chris stuck his head through my door, “Jack will be in your class Friday.”

I was happy that one of my favorite former students was joining my class. Then Friday it occurred to me, “Oh crap! I’m Jack’s teacher again.”

He was one of my favorites, but he was also one of my most frustrating.

Friday he has happy at the school. He immediately tried to make friends there. The class had a grammar test, since it was Friday. I have Jack the test, too, just to give him something to do. He surprised me by making a higher grade than two of the other students (there are five in the class).

The big panic this week came from the lawsuit. I had been getting Eun Jeong to call the law office to get updates and to find out what else we needed. When we called Monday, they said everything was going fine but slowly. On Tuesday, we got a call from a different department saying they needed my Alien Registration Card (ARC) within five days.

This is where I was (and still am) very angry with myself. I have always been a procrastinator, and I have consciously battling my tendencies over the years. According to Immigration, I had until the end of December to get my ARC. Chris and I were planning to take a quick trip to Immigration some morning to get it done. Otherwise, the trip without a car takes a total of three hours. I had put off making my ARC until now because we had regular early meetings at school for the books we are writing. And besides, in all my time in Korea, my ARC has been nothing more than a useless piece of plastic in my wallet. I was too lazy to make a three hour trip and miss an important meeting to get something that I’d never use.

Of course, I was wrong.

Early Thursday morning, Eun Jeong and I went to the Immigration Office. Eun Jeong was on the phone most of the time, begging the law office to extend the deadline. You see, if we didn’t have the ARC to them, they couldn’t prove that I was a resident in Korea, and they’d cancel the lien on Unnamed Hagwon’s assets. We need that lien because even if we win, we have no guarantee that Unnamed Hagwon Owner will pay the money, considering her credit history of ignoring creditors.

Eun Jeong talked to the Immigration officer while I filled out the application form. When I sat down to get it done, she told me it would take ten days. I told her I was involved in a court case and needed it a lot sooner. “My old school stole money from me.”

“Really? How much?”

“According to the Labor Board, over six million won.”

The officer’s eyes bugged out. She thumbed through my passport to look at my previous visas.

“Which school was that?”

“Unnamed Hagwon.”

She wrote something in a file. “Okay. The best we can do is get the card made in seven days.”

That was still too late. Eun Jeong was angry and frustrated. I insisted she keep calling the law office. She said it wouldn’t work. We sat down on a bench.

“Why do you do things like this, Joe?”

“I know. I’m angry at myself, too. But I’ve done all I can do. The best we can hope for now is to call the law office.”

She called one more time. They said they’d move the deadline for us.


So when we get this done and win the court case, we are guaranteed to eventually get the money. You see, we’re not freezing Unnamed Hagwon Owner’s car (too many have already claimed it) or anything that can decrease in value. We’re freezing the key money, the deposit, for the school’s building space. The key money is worth at least $50,000. So eventually, when the school goes out of business (and it looks like there’s a major exodus there), Unnamed Hagwon Owner won’t see a lick of her $50,000 until she pays us our $6,000.

It also looks like an essay I wrote on Korean food will appear in a book on expats in Korea. I’ll give updates on this when there’s something more concrete.

Chris has also had a lot of good things happen to him. And when good things happen to him, it trickles down to us.

He was invited to speak at a conference of education professionals on Saturday. He was to give a twenty minute presentation on technology in schools. His presentation was so good, the next speaker gave up his time because he wanted to listen to more of what Chris had to say. Some pretty big wigs were in the audience, including the U.S. head of Oxford Publishing.

As I’ve posted in the Food Journal, Eun Jeong and I went to the Kimchi Festival in Seoul. It was at the same folk village where we went for Lunar New Years a few years back.

I really was excited about finally making my own kimchi. That wasn’t a put on on the Food Journal. Even though there were some Westerners there, I don’t remember seeing any actually doing the kimchi making. I was across the table from a couple of women from Japan, who were having a great time.

Kimchi making ingredients

I guess because I stood out so much, my picture was being taken the entire time. I was attracting a swarm. The batteries ran out on Eun Jeong’s camera, and I had to stop to show here where the replacements were. When I put my gloves back on, all the yangyam paste was gone. Everyone had finished making their kimchis, and I was only half done. If you notice towards the end of the Food Journal entry, I was the only person making kimchi. Everyone else had gone home.

I scraped yangyam off of other people’s trays and scoured the table for more. I was following Eun Jeong’s instructions to stuff a crapload of yangyam in the cabbage.

In the meantime, different media organizations were interviewing me, half and half in English and Korean. Eun Jeong was being interviewed at the same time. She was embarrassed and thrilled. I ended up doing a thumbs up and saying, “I LOVE KIMCHI” in Korean for the cameras. It took a few takes. I have always made fun of people who did stuff like this on Korean TV.

Now I’m one of them.

The Kimchi Festival organizers helped me find enough yangyam to finish my kimchi. They also helped me bag it. It was heavy. In less than a day, the physical (and I assume chemical) composition of the kimchi changed. Fascinating. I want to make more. And you know what? It actually tastes really good. It’s up there with the best I’ve tasted, below Eun Jeong’s mother’s kimchi with the raw oysters inside.

We spent the rest of the day trekking around Myeong-dong in downtown Seoul. Did some clothes shopping, mostly window shopping. We ate dinner at a high quality dolsot (sizzling stone pot) bibimbap restaurant.

Dolsot Bibimbap

We then called it a day and took the bus home.

Then next day, as Eun Jeong promised, we took the journey to Costco to apply for a membership. This is where Westerners go to find foods from home off the military bases. I was a bit excited.

When we got the membership, Eun Jeong was immediately floored by the products she saw. As we journeyed on, she became more cynical, as did I. We didn’t see many good deals. Eun Jeong also stated that there were more Korean products than she expected and not as much foreign products. We got some good deals on cheese and pasta. And I found some cans of green beans. But I couldn’t find what I specifically went there for: cheap lunch meat, cornmeal, and shortening.

So even Costco isn’t the Great and Powerful Oz for American food and products. I’ll have to journey to the Chinese market for my cornmeal, go to E-Mart for my sandwich meat, and use butter instead of shortening in my biscuits.

Honestly, I feel disappointed with Costco, and I feel like we wasted our money. Even E-Mart had Western products that Costco didn’t have — at a competitive price. That’s funny because both E-Mart and Costco Korea are owned by Samsung. And I was always told that E-Mart’s foreign goods came from Costco.

I guess we’ll have to reconsider that urban myth.

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