A Travellerspoint blog

Birth of a Family Through Kimchi

Happy Birthday to Me!


Oh, the day has finally come. Another year older, another year wiser. I think I saw an extra wrinkle on my face when I looked in the mirror this morning. Crap. I was supposed to feel super excited about this day, but I’m not. 21 runs don't even exist in Korea because the drinking age in South Korea is 19. And our exploration seminar officially starts today!

Today, we went to the National Museum of Korean History. I am not really a museum type of person. History was my least favorite subject in school. Artifacts start to look the same when you stare at them all day. However, I actually enjoyed the parts that showed the different statues of Buddha. It was really interesting to see how the images of Buddha have changed between Korea, China, and Japan. Even the bells in the temples of each country were different. After a couple hours roaming around the museum, we went to the Food Court to eat lunch. I ordered some cold noodles, which was perfect for the hot, humid weather. We walked around the garden outside the museum, which turned out to be a great ice breaker for us to bond. I learned interesting Korean words, but I forgot most of them. Apparently, coffee, copy, and nose bleed all have the same sound, but a slight difference in tone. So if you wanted to ask a barista for coffee with an off tone, you might be asking for a nosebleed!

My lovely classmates!

Afterwards, we all took the train to Wangsimni to Professor Kim’s mother’s house. In front of her house, there were nappa, cucumbers, and leeks soaked in large tubs filled with water. We were greeted by the sweetest old lady. Her house was very small, but we managed to fit all 17 of us inside by moving all the couches and tables to the side. She handed us a very large bowl and some gloves. Richard, Serena, and I were in charge of mixing and making the kimchi. She tossed in red chillip peppers, leeks, fish paste, fish sauce, sesame seeds, grated ginger, miced garlic, sliced daikon, and carrots all together in one bowl. We taste tested the mixture, which tasted like sea water. It was like eating a brick of salt with a sprinkle of chilli powder. I guess she didn’t think it was salty enough because she tossed in more salty dish paste into the mixture.

Volunteers mixing the ingredients for making kimchi! It's harder than you think it is...

Afterwards, we got the nappa from outside and rubbed the mixture into the nappa. Since nappa doesn’t have much flavor at all, it will absorb all the flavor from the salty/spicy mixture. I have to give props to the ajumas who prepare kimchi every day because it’s hard work! When I was preparing the kimchi, it made me appreciate old people a lot more. Even though we were wearing gloves, the chilli mixture managed to seep into my gloves and my arms got all red. After Richard finished the last nappa, I thought it was over. I was dead wrong. Professor’s mother brought in a whole bunch of cucumbers for us to marinate. After we were done, we tried the cucumber marinated in the chili mixture, but all I could taste was salt. However, everything was going to be alright because even though the vegetables are salty now, it will absorb the saltiness and neutralize it. In the very end, the professor's mother tossed in cubed daikon onto the remaining bits of mixture. Koreans don't waste - we used every last bit of mixture to marinate the vegetables.

The finished product. We have to let the fermentation process begin.

Making kimbap! We put rice, various vegetables, ham, eggs, and pickled radish inside the roll! Super quick, easy, and delicious! People usually eat kimbap as a snack or a quick to-go meal. Professor's mom also made us delicious spicy fishcake soup! /foodcoma

After the more physically demanding work, we made kimbap, which literally means seaweed (kim) rice (bap). It was really fun and everyone got to eat their own rolls. (I didn’t die, so that means it was a success, right?) I really enjoyed this moment because everyone worked together to prepare a whole meal. It made me feel like we were a family. It broke all the awkwardness between us. We talked, laughed, and ate delicious kimbap.
Before heading back home, we went to get face masks at Hongdae. We bought 5000 won baseball caps and 2000 won ice cream. What a night! Time to go back home and put face masks on!

Even though I didn't drink on my 21 run, I still felt very special today. I got to make kimbap and kimchi with my new Korean family, which was a thousand times better than a couple shots of soju or a few cans of beer.

My new family.

Posted by thewongway 12:27 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Getting Gypped

Lesson 1: Never trust a salesperson



First impression of Korea – not very good. People are rude here. The rudeness meter is pretty high up compared to Japan, but pretty close to Hong Kong. People give you the stink eye. People jaywalk on the streets and almost gets run over by buses. A dude cut me when I was the next person in line to buy a bus ticket. Workers give crappy, one-word answers when you’re trying to ask something complicated. And others simply ignore you. I waited for the bus at 4:25and it was supposed to arrive at 4:35. The bus never showed up. I had to wait for the 5:12 bus. WTF. After a freakin’ 2 hour bus ride, I got lost and had my couchsurfer, Michael, pick me up. I didn’t have a phone, so I stole the restaurant’s free wifi and kakao talk’d him.
He took me out to my very first meal in Seoul – Korean BBQ.

Korean BBQ at its finest!

This as my very first lesson in Seoul. Knowing how to eat Korean BBQ is essential in Korea because they are everywhere! There is probably 10x as much Korean BBQ as there are Starbucks in Seattle. We ordered some drinks, pork, beef strips, and steak. There were also small dishes on the side. Afterwards, Michael and I tried to go to another place to get the sang nak ji, which were the squirming octopuses, but they were all out. We left and walked up to the German bar to celebrate his co-worker/friend’s birthday.

At the German Bar with Michael (right of me) and his friends.

On the other end of the table, there was a table full of middle-aged ladies screaming their heads off. They were really drunk and I was kind of scared they were going to fall off the porch. Michael and I walked back to his house. We saw a guy who passed out on the street with his beer belly showing. Seoul actually safer than I thought. No one will mess with the drunk guy who passed out on the side of the street. If the lady was walking home alone, no creeper will rape or rob her.
Michael was such a nice host! He let me sleep in his spare room!


Michael had gone to work when I woke up. I called my friend Jessica and made plans to explore Itaewon. I bummed around at his house for the next hour and started my first lonely adventure in Seoul! Even though it was almost 11:00 am, most of the shops haven’t opened yet. As weird as it may sound, the neighborhood, Itaewon, is like my mom. They both like to stay up late and wake up late. Was this really the same place I had dinner and drinks with my couchsurfing host?!

Awesome view from the apartment.

Overview of Itaewon.

After wandering around and using the free wifi on the street, I went into a department store to use their free AC. This did not seem like a regular department store. There weren’t shops, but more like stalls. There were tables lined up in rows with all the merchandises bunched together. It felt more like a swap meet than an actual store. Everything was clustered together – key chains, fake designer handbags, paintings, souvenirs, and all the typical things that foreigners get ripped off on. Haggling comes in handy when you’re at a place like this.

I went into a store and immediately, someone pulls me into their stalls to look at their products. “This one good. You from America? This keychain – buy 10, I give you 1 free!” There is no way I am going to get duped! But I did find these really adorable bookmarks. She said it was one of a kind and only her store sells them. After haggling back and forth with the store owner, we finally agreed that she would sell 10 for 20,000 won (and one free). After happily getting out of the store and walking to the store two feet across from it, I saw the same stupid bookmarks. One of a kind… my butt! She sold them for 2 for 3000 won. I wanted to scream really loudly at that moment. I just got gypped.

I met up with Jessica and walked around Itaewon for another 3-4 hours. There were a lot of foreigners in this area. Turkish ice cream to KFC, a lot of the foods in the neighborhood wasn’t actually traditional Korean food. We went back to Morgan’s house, packed my bags, and left for the hostel. The train station was about 5 blocks away from his house, and there were two steep hills to go up on. I had my large camping backpack and my luggage. Oh boy.
I looked like I was melting, carrying all my luggage with Jessica. People were staring, but I had no energy to even care anymore. I looked like I just took a shower. We finally arrived at the train station, purchased our tickets, went onto the train, transferred, and arrived at Hongdae. And a couple more unnecessary turns, numerous times of asking for directions with lots of hand gestures, and generous amount of “where the heck are we at?!,” we finally made it to White Hostel.

Picture with fellow Koreans!

We unpacked and went out to dinner on our own. We ate at this random place where the owner spoke mandarin. We ordered pork combo, which came with rice, side dishes, lettuce, and soup. I had no idea how to eat it, so I copied the couple next to us.

First meal that I paid for! (:


  • Many Koreans are multilingual.
  • Getting tricked by a sales person is inevitable. But you get smarter every time you get cheated.
  • So much BBQ. And side dishes are essential in every meal.

Posted by thewongway 19:00 Archived in South Korea Tagged shopping korea itaewon Comments (0)

The Wandering Henro

Returning to Tokyo


The plane ride to Narita was a long one. My feet felt swollen and the baby crying in the aisle in front of me didn't make the situation any better. I sat in the aisle seat and the two people who sat on my row probably either had too much caffeine, drank way too much water, or had some bladder issues, because they kept using the bathroom! Despite it all, the worst part of the flight was the meals. For lunch, I had rubbery chicken with a mysterious cheese sauce. I didn't even bother eating the last meal because smelling the 'omelette' or the stir fried noodles was bad enough for me to throw up.

After passing through the immigration and customs, the two other girls on our trip and I went to their hotel room to freshen up. I took the train to Ueno (which was conveniently located in Ameyoko). The train ride lasted 80 minutes and I fell asleep for most of it. It was nice to experience riding on the trains again. I had many memories of my sister and I looking like bums. This time, there weren't as many weird stares at me. I decided to go straight to the hostel I will be spending the night at. After a couple of wrong turns, I managed to find the place. The night before the trip, I made a reservation for a co-ed 10 person room at the hostel. However, the lady was nice enough to let me stay in a single person room for no extra charge! I guess Daishi-san is still looking out for me.

After unloading, I quickly took the train back to Ueno and wandered around Ameyoko like a travelling henro (or should I say, a loner). I bought some cosmetics for my sister, happi coat, daruma, and random items to bring back for my family. On my way back to the hostel, I stopped by a ramen shop and ordered the only thing I knew, cha-shui ramen. The ramen wasn't the best - the egg was overdone, the cha-shui was too dry, the base tasted like the generic, MSG-loaded soup base that comes in a cup-a-noodle, but having nothing but processed and artificially flavored airplane food all day, this ramen tasted like a thousand dollar meal. After a sweaty, hot summer night in Tokyo, I went back to the hostel to enjoy their free internet, shower, and mostly importantly, their AC.


After waking up every hour due to my jet-lag, I finally woke up at 5 am and left Tokyo Hostel at 5:45. I managed to walk over to Sensouji temple in Asakusa, asking random old ladies for direction with my broken Japanese. It was nice returning to a temple after a year. I whiffed the smoke coming from the incense over to my hair and body to bring good health and fortune. I dropped a 1 yen coin and said my prayers just like how my sister and I did it back in Shikoku. I bought a whole bunch of omamori for the family. Afterwards, I got lost for 30 minutes trying to find the Asakusa train station (which I later found out that there were three different subway lines in Asakusa). In the end, I followed a group of French tourist who were also going to Narita airport. We checked in our bags, had lunch, and went to the terminal. One thing I noticed about the flight was that Asiana Airline was SO much better than the United Airline, especially their food. (But I didn't eat any because I already had lunch... haha!)


3 more hours until... KOREA!

Posted by thewongway 06:34 Archived in Japan Comments (0)


I haven't packed anything yet...

Ever since my study abroad to Japan/China a year ago, I've been itching for another opportunity to study abroad. Thus, when the opportunity came to travel to Korea to learn about the social and health issues of Koreans, I immediately grabbed it. This exploration seminar will allow me to understand more about the Korean culture, health within the immigrant community in Korea, issues in families (inter-generational cultural conflicts), and other complexities that occur within a minority populations such as Korea. Since I was raised in Hong Kong and Seattle, and have traveled to Japan, I will be able to compare all these cultures with my new experiences in Korea.

I will be leaving on August 23rd and return on September 18th. It will be an interesting experience since I will be leaving one day after I finish my physics final. I will be staying on a 22-hour layover in Tokyo and do lots of couchsurfing along the way. I haven't even cleaned up my room yet, let alone packed for Korea. I'm heading over there with an empty suitcase and an open mind and I hope to return with an engorged suitcase filled with souvenirs, experiences, and great memories.

Follow me on my journey to my 22-hour layover to Japan, and my 3-week trip to Korea!

QUESTION 1: What do I look most forward to in Korea?
Trying squirming octopus legs!


To see my previous blog where the Wongs travel to rural and urban Japan, please visit: thewongway.travellerspoint.com

Posted by thewongway 22:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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