Tuesday, March 09, 2010

To be continued...

Finally. This blog is being resumed at christopher-theotherside.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Quick update which serves as a bridge for more interesting material and the dullest title ever.

Pictured here is a very popular and typical Korean dish--kimchi bok um bap (bohk oohm bahp), which was meant to be the second installment in my food series. In a nutshell, it's kimchi fried rice with an egg on top, but that's not important right now. I had a grand idea to do a series on Korean food and two things happened: One, My schedule shifted and it wasn't nearly as convenient to visit this restaurant for dinner. Two, which was of bigger influence, I got completely burned out on Korean food. I have been eating this stuff ten times a week for the last two years and have recently decided to take a break. I've been cooking more conventional food at home lately and eating at ethnic restaurants. Some friends and I not too long ago discovered a really good Mexican restaurant (which I never thought would happen here) near the air force base just a half an hour down the subway line, so we've been doing that quite a bit. Aside from kalbi (grilled meat with sides) I haven't eaten Korean food in weeks. I made an exception today and ordered bibimbap, but it wasn't so satisfying.

Point is that this food thing isn't going to happen. Korean food has become so common to me and I have eaten so much of it that I can't see myself waxing poetic about it on this blog. Perhaps someday I'll wax poetic about the Mexican place, which is fantastic. For now, the plan is to sort through my pictures from last weekend's wonderful excursion to Seorak mountain (Seoraksan, if anyone feels like googling it) and tell all about it. I have been playing soccer every Sunday (www.intersuwon.com) and we've been doing very well. However, it has been keeping me around Suwon and there hasn't been much adventure. Last weekend we had the Sunday off so I jumped on the opportunity to take a weekend trip and was not disappointed. In the meantime, I'd encourage everyone to check out intersuwon.com, as the team has a new beat writer. I'll post pics and a few words on the trip very soon. Missed you guys!!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Let's see what's on the menu.

It's been pretty low-key since I returned from Indonesia, and I've been racking my brain trying to figure out just how I could follow up such an amazing experience. There haven't been any adventures, nor have I done anything particularly notable this year. I seem to have slipped back into a routine and everything seems normal to me now. It recently occurred to me that normal over here might be fascinating to someone who has never lived where I do, so I decided to do a series on the seemingly mundane. Pictured is a normal, run-of-the-mill Korean restaurant. There are numerous chains like this and the menus are nearly identical. This particular restaurant, named Into the Kimbap, is especially good and inexpensive. I've been coming here for a while and I think it's the best standard Korean food around. I'm sure all of you are wondering exactly what standard Korean food is, so stick around and you might learn something.
I figured I'd start with my most standard dish--bibimbap. I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but this is a dish that I eat very regularly--especially during the summer. It's a simple dish consisting of rice, vegetables of varying kinds, and topped with an egg. I'm a sucker for anything with an egg on it. As always, the dish is accompanied by different kinds of kimchi and other sides, some of them quite funky at times. I can't say I touched the minnows, yech! The red bottle contains another standard: gochu jang. Gochu jang is a red pepper paste served with many dishes that has a sweet and mildly salty flavor. I like when it's on the side like this so I can control the amount put in my bibimbap.
After a little squirt of gochu, I mix it all together with my chopsticks and wharf it down. I really like this restaurant. I've had this same dish all over Korea and this place serves the best. This spread cost a whopping three thousand won (3 bucks), which is pretty damn reasonable for a healthy and satisfying meal. On a historical note, bibimbap was born in a city named Jeonju, which is about a three hour bus ride south. I went to this city for an afternoon in summer 2006, but was disappointed in that I didn't eat bibimbap. I've been meaning to go back on a pilgrimage to eat my favorite dish in it's purest form. I will do this sometime, and will be sure to make a full report.

Since there hasn't been much action on the blog lately, I had the idea to try everything on the menu at this restaurant and tell all about it. Food is a passionate hobby of mine and I have to say that the vast majority of the Korean I speak and know revolves around food. It was a big motivator for me to learn how to read Korean in that the majority of menus are written in Hangul. After every meal in this restaurant I tell the nice owner: "Jahl mok ah ssim ni da". Literally translated it means "I ate well", but it means more along the lines of "I was satisfied with my meal."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Last day and Final Thoughts.

Thursday was my final day on Lombok, and I would fly to Jakarta the following day. I was still a little sore and tired from the trek, so I had no intentions of doing anything too grand. Instead, I enjoyed the downtime and spent most of the day playing in the waves, which were considerably powerful. I had considered a trip to nearby Gili Islands, but the water was too choppy to get transport. It rained most of the morning anyway, but cleared up in the afternoon. When I wasn't in the water, I spent my time on the strip having snacks and hanging out with the locals. There was a fine pub I ended up at where a certain local and I played pool for a good portion of the day.

This pool table was unlike any that I had played on before. It had the dimensions of a normal pool table and and the usual eight-ball rack. However, the balls were the size of snooker balls (for those who don't know snooker, the balls are slightly smaller and require more precision) and the pockets were rounded like a snooker tables. This means that any shot not hit dead solid perfect at the right speed would rattle out of the pocket. The table was very fast and it made for a very fun game. After a couple of hours of playing and chatting with my Indonesian friend I set back towards the resort.

There was a group of Australians staying in the bungalow next door and I talked to them on and off during the day. These gentlemen traveled together several times a year in search for good surf, and the father of one of them had been to Lombok every year for some time. That evening his son and his friends went down to the beach with me to kick around with some locals that lived on the beach. These guys kicked every evening, and enthusiastically let us play with them. We kicked until sunset and afterwards I hung out with the Aussies and continued to knock the ball around. I talked to one of them, named Doug, over a beer for a while and he told me all about his life in Sydney. Doug is a plumbing technician who works hard but plays harder. He told me that when he is not working he's surfing and hanging out with his friends. Given the opportunity to travel more than a few times a year, he gets together with friends and family and plans trips to other places to surf. What I found really interesting about Doug and his friends was their outlook on life. Doug told me how he doesn't take his life for granted at all and is grateful every day that he was lucky enough to be born where he was. Here was a guy who is really happy with his life and seems to enjoy every day. I've always thought the surfing sub-culture is cool, but this made me want to move to a beach and become part of it.

Doug left to join his friends for dinner and I opted to hang out on the beach. I sat in the sand for hours that evening, burying my sore feet, listening to the waves, and looking at the stars. At several points locals selling things approached me. I'd tell them that I wasn't interested in buying anything there but they were welcome to chat. Several times a person or two or at one time five sat down with me and talked about their island, country, politics, religion, or whatever. They all struck me as open-minded and easy going, and their was never an inflammatory topic that arose. I sat in the same spot for two hours and never got bored. After a while I cleaned up and went back to the strip where I watched an Arsenal game and drank a few pints.

The following morning I checked out and made my way to the airport. I had a seven hour layover in Jakarta that I wasn't exactly looking forward to, but had a good book to read and knew of a nice cheap spa where I could hang out and rest. I read George Orwell's "Down and Out in London and Paris" that day, which made me hungry with the main character working the hobo circuit in search for food. That was the third Orwell book I've read in the last year, and I'd highly recommend any of them (I also read Animal Farm and 1984). I finally boarded the plane at 9:30 pm and would arrive in freezing cold Seoul at 6:30am (There's a two-hour time difference.).

One thing I love about traveling alone is that it affords me time to reflect and think about the future. Indonesia was a very fitting end to an up and down 2007. On the mountain I thought about what direction I wanted to take when I got back and two things consistently popped into my head: soccer and writing. Going into 2008 I decided that these were the two things that give me the most satisfaction and two things that come naturally to me. I felt a renewal when I came back and have since set my energies to these two pursuits. Another key feeling I gathered on the trip was a re-newed faith in humanity. Through all my travels, I've found that people and cultures are generally good when you give them a chance. The people I encountered over this trip didn't discriminate against me because of my background and showed no hostility. I hope that in 2008 more of the world would act accordingly and try to appreciate our differences and live in harmony. Happy new year to everybody and peace towards mankind.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Last day on the mountain.

After a night of bitter cold and tumultuous wind, the weather broke for the better in the morning. I had been bundled up freezing all night in my sleeping bag and was afraid to get out in the morning. When I walked outside, however, the air felt cool, but quite bearable. This first picture is the view from the top, which is distorted by the clouds. This is a cliff that overlooks the entire crater (If you look closely you can barely see the lake). I have no doubt that the view is quite astonishing on a clear day, but there was no luck this time around... being the monsoon season and all. I had a breakfast of fresh fruit and banana pancakes, complete with the aforementioned stout coffee.
After breakfast I put on a wet outfit, which was miserable. I had dry socks, but it didn't matter since my boots were soaked. There was no point in putting on dry clothes, as they would only be soaked within an hour. Even when it wasn't raining, we were walking through dense brush and trees that shed cool water as we walked through them. The weather had changed our plans that day. Since we couldn't see the summit and there was heavier rain coming, the guide said we should hike back down rather than stay the extra day. Having no dry anything and miserably wet feet, I didn't object very strongly.

The hike on the third day proved to be much easier than the first two. Funny how going down a mountain is so much easier than going up. The scenery was pleasant and the air felt refreshing and clean. Of course, it promptly started raining and the pancho came out once again, making it difficult again to get pictures. I was looking forward to going back to the hotel and drying up, but also was cherishing the nice hike. We would hike for 3 1/2 hours and eat lunch, then another 2 after that to the base, where a ride would be waiting to take us back to Sengigi.

Here is a picture of a very deep gorge just by the shelter where I had my last lunch on the mountain. We walked over many of these that day. The picture does not give a perspective of how deep this is. I was throwing rocks into this and couldn't hear them hit the bottom, and it was dead quiet in this spot. I could see how dangerous it could be to wander the mountain without a guide. There are plenty of ledges where one could step off and kill themselves, which has happened. After a lunch of fried noodles with eggs (pictured in "Food for thought") we set out on the final leg of our great hike. We walked non-stop until we reached the base, passing many more gorges and rivers, along with a field of oxen and villagers. We reached the base around 4:00, and took a bus back to Sengigi.

The drive was very scenic and took a good two hours. My favorite part of the drive was the presence of monkeys on the roadside. I had expected to see more on the mountain (I only saw one), so I was relieved to see these critters just hanging out on the side of the road. I must have seen fifty or so on the way back. Since I missed a day on the mountain the trekking company put me up in the same hotel. I arrived there a little before seven and put on my remaining dry clothes. Apart from having a meal on the strip and a couple of beers, I did very little that evening. My body was fairly sore and I was looking forward to a full day of relaxing on the beach. That night I slept very well in my comfortable, dry bungalow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Trip to the top

After the long morning walk the guide and I took a well-deserved break on the lake. It had stopped raining by this point, but a fine mist remained in the air. We had gotten a head start over the porters, who stayed behind to pack up the camp. I felt a little sheepish being coddled by the porters. Along with the guide they did all of the cooking, cleaning, pitching tents, and so forth. All I had to do was walk. That was a chore in itself and after the hard morning hike I was ready for a rest. The egg and cheese sandwich I had for breakfast had tied me over, which was good since the porters were a good hour behind us and had all the food.
Waiting for the porters allowed plenty of time to bathe in the hot springs, which were a short walk from the shelter on the lake. These springs come from the volcanic core and are quite hot and loaded with minerals. The locals say they have healing powers, and I could see why. The water spews out of the cliff and into a large pool where pipes run the water into three seperate smaller pools which were not as hot. The hot mineral water felt great after walking in the cold rain all morning, and the cool mist was perfect for keeping me from over-heating. The pools were in a valley with a river, and the mist and clouds gave the area a mystical quality.

After a long soak, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated we made our way back to the shelter just as the guides arrived. We had our usual delicious lunch and I drank two cups of black, stout, grainy coffee. It was crucial to gather strength at this point, as the rest of the afternoon would be the most difficult walk yet. I was able to get some shots of the lake from higher up, but the afternoon would prove to be as difficult for taking pictures as any other time. We would reach the top by early evening and camp near the summit. The plan was to wake up early the next morning and hike to the summit to watch the sunrise.

Unfortunately, nature had other plans. It began raining again shortly after lunch, and the camera went into the bag shortly after this last photo was taken. We walked over many deep gorges such as this one. It's difficult to gage the depth in this photo, but it was quite deep and very long. There's something really cool about crossing these bridges. As it got wetter that afternoon the incline became steeper and rockier. This would be the hardest work of the trek. We walked steeply upwards for three hours or so. Again and again I marveled at how the porters managed to make this trip with all of the baggage on their shoulders. It's a very dangerous profession and I gained a deep respect for what they do. As we got above 10,000 feet the temperature dropped considerably. The wind that had disappeared in the crater was back in full force. Despite being soaked, I was okay as long as I kept moving. For this we didn't take any more breaks and moved upward full steam.

By the time we reached the top I was completely worn out. My knees ached from propelling myself up the steep slope with the heavy backpack. When I reached the top, there was absolutely nothing to block the cold wind. My clothes were wet and I could do nothing but freeze until the porters arrived. I had one dry outfit and wasn't about to get that wet. Had I done that I'd have froze to death that night. The entire afternoon I was looking forward to getting underneath shelter next to a warm fire, as we had the day before. It was shocking to realize when we reached the top that there was no shelter whatsoever. I found out the next day that seven people had died that year of hypothermia at the top. When the porters finally arrived and set up camp I was shivering cold. The rain would not relent until the morning, and our planned sunrise was impossible because of the cold, wind, clouds, and rain. When my tent was finally pitched I put on my remaining dry clothes and bundled up under the sleeping bag. I wouldn't leave the tent the rest of the night. The wind and rain grew more intense that night and keeping warm was a struggle, even with the cocoon-like sleeping bag made for these kind of conditions. Despite the conditions, I managed to sleep that evening out of sheer exhaustion. It was a strange feeling being in that tent, freezing, and knowing that there was absolutely no way out. It's not as if I could say: "Okay, I give up. Let's go back to the hotel." It was Christmas night and I was stuck on top of the mountain, held hostage in my tent by the hostile conditions. Still, it was perhaps the best Christmas ever.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Food for thought.

There were so many memorable things about the trek, but the thing that really stood out was the food. The locals have got this down absolutely. To the left is Suhn cooking what would be my first lunch. The porters carry a stockpile of fruits, vegetables, eggs, rice, noodles, spices, and cookware. Whenever we stopped to eat my guide would cook an immaculate feast while the porters brewed coffee, tea, and cooked rice. When it came to eating, I wasn't roughing it in the slightest. As a matter of fact, the best food I had over the course of my vacation I had on the mountain.

Every dish was different, but each one was loaded with fresh vegetables and there would be some fresh fruit to snack on as well. Hours of walking up steep slopes really rouse the appetite, and the food was as satisfying as can be. I was so pleased when we stopped the first time and the porter offered me coffee. This coffee was like none other I had. Coffee snobs might turn their noses up at this, but living in Korea has changed my standards when it comes to coffee. Every time we stopped I was served a piping hot cup of the stoutest coffee the world has seen. It was thick, bitter, and grainy, with the consistency and look of used motor oil--maybe blacker. It might sound gross, but wow it tasted great after hiking in the cold. I savored every cup, and drank them down to the thick residue at the bottom of the cup.
Breakfast each morning was also a treat. There were egg, tomato, and cheese sandwiches, fried eggs, and my personal favorite banana pancakes. For lunch and dinner I would enjoy vegetable fried rice, rice with veggies in a satay sauce, fried noodles, noodle soup with vegetables, and chicken curry among other things. Not only was the food delicious, but the guide took special care in the presentation. He tediously chopped each vegetable into perfectly uniform sizes and even went to lengths to cut the carrots into stars, as he did the pineapples. Look at this last picture. Imagine hiking for four hours in the rain and sitting down to this meal with a hot, stout cup of coffee. I'd never eaten as well as I did on this trek. It wasn't just our group either. Everyone else I saw were eating in the same fashion. When it comes to camping, the Indonesians are world class in the cooking department.