Winter in Korea

I reneged on my promise to give you pictures during the last two weekends. I hope you’re not disappointed with this week’s selection. As always, the photographer is my sister-in-law, who photo-blogs under the name Carou. I’d link her, but her blog isn’t public yet. I’m trying to convince her to change her mind.

Apukujong looks cold. I love the light in this picture.

Seoul City Hall just before New Year’s Day, 2005. My wife and I were married in a hotel just across the street from this building. City Hall is one of the few buildings from the Japanese colonial period that the Koreans haven’t torn down, and rumor has it that it’s not long for this world.

I was surprised to see pictures of this place. This is the Seoul Express Bus Terminal, where I spent many hours waiting for the bus to Taegu, passing the time reading newspapers or eating delicious Korean tangerines. I was the assigned Trial Defense Counsel at Camp Henry for 18 months, although many of my cases–and my then-fiancee, now my wife–were in Seoul. I’d usually come to Seoul on the Saemaul express train, but I’d return on the bus. Tickets were cheap, a bus was always leaving every 20 minutes, and with fewer stops and crying babies, it was easier to sleep. The bus made one stop at a rest area called kumgang, high in the mountains. It would arrive at Taegu in the early morning hours.

This is the sea near Kangnung, on the northeast coast of Korea, and it looks grey and angry in these pictures.

About a year before I met my wife, I went to Kangnung with some friends–one of whom had a pretty sister, who did not join us because G-d is ever merciful (except when He isn’t, but that’s another topic). I actually talked them into sleeping on the beach . . . what the hell was I thinking? Oh sure, it was summer, but the ocean currents there are freezing, and so was the beach by midnight. Worse, there were throngs of teenagers blaring 80-decibel Korean pop and firing roman candles at each other all night. It was a miracle that none of us was set on fire, although the fact that the tide came in may have had something to do with it. One of my friends ended up catching a wave at about 4 a.m.

By morning, we were freezing, exhausted, and hungry. We walked around the shoreline until we found an open store. I built a fire out pieces of a discarded cargo pallet (despite the strong, cold breeze) and cooked the only remotely appetizing thing we could find: frozen beef, which we sliced with a dull paring knife. Sand added texture, but not much flavor.

This week on “Celebrity Death Match”–the Lucky Charms gang! Bravo your life, you say? Bravo this, star boy!

These small pancakes come with a sugary syrup. They were pretty good, but my favorites were the little cakes called kaeranbang, which were made by pouring pancake batter into a cast iron mold, adding an egg, closing the mold, and cooking the contents for the longest two minutes of your life. Mmmmm. Always, always followed by another long two minutes, because it’s simply impossible to eat just one. Enjoy with a steaming, delicious, unsanitary cup of wondoo kopi (picture horked from the Korea Life Blog).

The best place to find kaeranbang was along the Chong-ro near Tapkol Park, famous for the grandfathers who gather there to remember the 1919 independence movement.

In four years of eating at Korean street food stalls, I got one case of food poisoning, which I consider an acceptable level of risk (the case I got from a so-called “Good Restaurant” was the one that nearly killed me). In the winter, steam rises out of the plastic and canvas sheeting that serves as their walls and roof, giving them a look that’s both mysterious and welcoming.


This is the second time I’ve published this picture, but that’s how much I love it. This man is selling roasted sweet potatoes, called kuguma. The Korean variety has a pale yellow flesh. Grandfathers like this man appear in front of just about every neighborhood in Korea during the winter and fill the air with wood smoke, which never failed to make me homesick for the wood stove we used during the harsh South Dakota winters. The men always seemed impervious to the cold. I sometimes wondered if they had any nerve endings. Koreans, especially the ones from that generation, hold their pain well.

Kuguma were delicious, even though you always had to scrape off layers of ashes to get to the eating. On a freezing day, they’d warm you up.

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America’s Energy Future

Although new oil reserves are routinely discovered in the U.S. and other parts of the world, eventually oil will be almost entirely consumed.

And the looming lack of oil is about much more that just transportation (which includes asphalt for roads, by the way), and keeping the lights, heat, and air-conditioning on. Take a look around you ““ see any plastic? Plastics and many other synthetics are manufactured from oil, from the mouse in your hand, to the insulation of conductors (all wiring), to the fibers in your carpet, to the siding and roof on your house (probably), a lot of the fibers in your clothes, the tires on your car, and even a good portion of the car itself these days.

I’m not saying there will be apocalyptic consequences, and am not concerned about “˜global warming,’ but if planning doesn’t take place soon there could be. Luckily we have some options.

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