Springtime for Zen

It’s been a nasty week, but my mood is getting better. I bought Ana’s play-doh kimbap playset (it’s made by a Korean company unassociated with than Play-Doh) and some little things I needed in the kitchen and the apartment. I went to Home Plus. I needed some professional tongs. In many cases, I can cook with the elongated chopsticks the Asians use, but sometimes my hands get too greasy or wet to handle them. And it’s impossible to get slippery dumplings out of boiling water with 14″ chopsticks. It’s like playing the game Operation ™. I went to the kitchenware section and was frustrated that they had tongs, but they were the kind that were made in one piece, more suitable for picking up ice for cocktails but not wide enough for real uses. I was looking for professional spring-loaded tongs. Then around the corner was either a bargain bin or a special promotion, and I found everything I need for 2,000 won each. I found spring-loaded tongs, a good plastic colandar, and some cool bottles with spouts that I’m now using for oil and soy sauce.I’m enjoying my first good Mobile Bay type meal since I’ve been here. YES, I have been able to mimic a Gulf Shores seafood platter for very cheap. In America, we’re accustomed to getting Asian food using western ingredients (celery in Chinese food?). So I’ve been working on ways to make western food with Asian ingredients. Now, for a fried seafood platter, most of the work is already done for you. It’s so easy to find inexpensive high-quality seafood breaded in light crispy Japanese panko bread crumbs. I found a bag of breaded fish for 3200 won ($2) and a large pack of beautiful breaded shrimp for 5000 won ($3.50). I also got a bag of fries. It would be amusing to Americans to know that three very popular foods in Korea are the indigenous American potato, sweet potato, and corn. Yeah, that part was easy. But what makes a seafood platter is the cocktail sauce. Horseradish is practically unavailable here. I’m not going to dip my shrimp in ketchup. I had found a bottle of chile sauce at Home Plus, so that was my base. Then instead of horseradish, I threw in a good dab of Japense wasabi and a dusting of Old Bay seasoning. I had just created the most intense (in the good sense) cocktail sauce. I’m sitting here eating shrimp in cocktail sauce and listening to 80s music. I’m at Dauphin Island all over again. I knew it would take a while, but I’m figuring out how to live like a king here on just $400 a month.

Everyone told me I would do it, and I must heed to their wisdom. I have been wanting western food all week: hamburgers, pizza, fried shrimp in cocktail sauce. I had McDonald’s Friday night, and I am craving a dozen Popeye’s biscuits. Thank the Lord Almighty that Koreans love Popeye’s more than KFC!! I’m loving this cultural hybrid I’m turning into. Here I am, going on a western food kick, and then last night I just got a pitcher (2 litre) of Hite beer and a package of spicy smoked-flavored dried squid and listened to David Sedaris essays on my computer. The ojingeo craving came after a bad attempt at trying Mexican food at Beer Plus, the horrible Applebee’s wannabe. I ordered “quesadias,” which were not quesadillas. They were more like cold rolled tortilla appetizers you see at every suburban Christmas party. The quesadias came with a honey mustard sauce that disguised their flavor and the Koreans’ favorite cabbage salad creation, similar to cole slaw. I’m sure I’ve described it before. It’s shredded cabbage with a sauce that’s just ketchup and mayonnaise. In some places, they don’t even bother disguising the ketchup and mayonnaise by mixing them together. They put the cabbage on a plate and then make a squiggly line of mayonnaise followed by a squiggly line of ketchup. I hate to say it really tastes not bad. I know it’s Thousand Island dressing, basically. River has fallen in love with a concoction from the bakery that is a small flat pastry with slices of hot dog that is topped with mayonnaise and ketchup. That’s her breakfast.

I was reflecting on whether or not I was pushing the advanced students too hard. I’m teaching them animal groups: birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians. I knew the toughest things to teach would be the characteristics of mammals and the difference between reptiles and amphibians. The book did not have accurate descriptions of either one. It said reptiles had bumpy skin and amphibians had smooth skin. Then that would make toads reptiles. For mammals, I thought it was amusing to give the kids the lyrics to They Might Be Giants’ song “Mammal.” I haven’t gotten them the music yet, but every now and then, I hear one of the children singing a version of the song with a tune they made up themselves. Partly because of my comfort with computers but mostly because I’m lazy, I held class in the computer room and had the students go on the web site for the National Zoo in Washington, DC. It’s a really good site. The more we were on it, the more I wanted to explore it on my own. The kids mostly played with puzzles of chameleons and small mammals. On Friday, they begged to go back to the computer room to look at the zoo site again. This time, we discovered the live web cams of the animals. When we’re holding class at 4 PM, dawn is just breaking at the National Zoo. So we watch these cams of animals waking up. The most active and interesting cam was the Naked Mole-Rat cam. Yeah, they were furless rodents running around. But something surprising happened while we were watching it. We saw one come in with something in its mouth. It was a baby mole-rat. We all were captivated by it. The most peaceful cam was the one of the flamingos standing in a pond with the sun coming up behind them. It’s funny how when you improvise, you can come up with better lessons. Some of the girls in these smart classes are so precious and precocious, I question whether or not arranged marriages were such a bad idea anyway. I’d love to have some of these girls or boys as daughters or sons-in-law one day, if they keep these attitudes of theirs into adulthood. That’s a weird thought, huh.

SJ is still sick, but she wants to hang out in Itaewon today. She’s meeting some professor at Sumyung University, and she wants me to meet her around there. I don’t want her to push herself too hard. It’s hard for me to believe that she’s lived in Seoul for so long and has never been to Itaewon. I’ve been there twice in a limited sense. I’m getting the impression that since I’m a foreigner, she thinks this is my territory, and it’s MY job to show her around.

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