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Monthly Archives: June 2012

This blog gives a great perspective about the dangers of broad categorizations of race in America.

What was really interesting about part of my time in Korea, is that Koreans do not necessarily refer to themselves by means of “race”…. why would they? Everyone is Asian in Asia. In Korea specifically, the majority of people in Korea are Korean. The term or descriptor “Korean” is used to identify nationality, and not race. In America, race matters. Diversity matters. Difference matters. For now, and probably for forever, Americans will need to describe themselves by means of categorization. For us, it’s a sociological reminder that we need to be cognizant of difference.

However, once I returned to the States from Korea, I find myself preferring Korean-style categorization, as it simply makes better sense. I am not “Korean” in the sense that I identify with the culture or nation as a whole. And I am not really “Asian,” which is a really over-simplified grouping that broadly categorizes many many cultures into one huge demographic which renders the heritage and actual culture of each subgroup nearly irrelevant.So, once I returned to the States, I have felt most comfortable identifying myself simply as American or Korean-American, or as an American born in Korea. But most often, I’ve been trying to avoid the label altogether…

To be continued, I guess…

Race Files

The June 19 release of the Pew Research Center report, The Rise of Asian Americans is generating buzz that is, frankly, giving me a headache.

The report summary opens with the following:

Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success….

Asian Americans trace their roots to any of dozens of countries in the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Each country of origin subgroup has its own unique history, culture, language, religious beliefs, economic and demographic traits, social and political values, and pathways into America.

But despite often sizable subgroup differences, Asian Americans are distinctive as a whole, especially when compared with all U.S. adults, whom they…

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1. Kimbap.  A Korean staple – sushi style rice (bap) and seeweed (kim) rolls that usually contain egg, radish, processed ham, and thin slices of fishcake.

2. Japchae. Another classic Korean dish, these semi-transparent and chewy noodles are made from Korean kokomah (sweet potato) and easily absorb flavors. Japchae usually features a soy and sesame oil sauce with spinach, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, and wood-ear mushrooms.

3. Honey Butter Toast. Here’s a secret that no one talks about: Korea has fabulous bakeries and baked goods. Honey Butter Toast is so much more than what it sounds to be: Thick cut slices of dense white bread are semi-cubed on a plate, toasted with a generous amount of butter and drizzled with honey, caramel, and dazzled with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. A decadent and simple dessert.

4. Bibimbap. Bibim = mix; bap = rice. This is a bowl full of rice and other ingredients, from veggies and egg to meat and seaweed, usually topped with a red sauce that varies in heat. The eater mixes thoroughly before eating. Delicious!

5. Kimchi Chigae. This stew features the ingredient Korea is famous (or infamous) for: KIMCHI. Fermented cabbage with its spicy-vinegary flavor is cooked down with onions, garlic, egg, and sometimes tofu and seafood to create a rich broth. Served in a dolsot hotpot heated over flame, this dish is often shared and served with sticky rice.

6. Sahmgyeopsal. Korea is also widely known for its indoor barbecue and this dish is part of the reason why. Fatty pork slices feature three layers of meat and fat resembling thick cuts of uncured bacon. Sometimes marinated, this dish is also to be flipped three times, hence the “sahm” (three) in sahmgyeopsal. Served with leaf lettuce wraps and various panchan, this is a great meal for a group.

7. Cold Noodles. Traditionally served after barbecue or as a summer specialty, cold noodles are prevalent in Korea and are usually served with a cold broth featuring ice, water, vinegar, red sauce, and often hot mustard. Vinegar and mustard are also provided table side to adjust the flavor. Nangmyeon is made with hearty, chewy buckwheat noodles which look grey in the bowl but have a dense texture and absorb flavors easily. A local Busan favorite, milmyeon, is made with springy flour-based noodles.

8. Korean Fried Chicken. I have eaten more fried chicken in Korea than I have eaten during the entirety of my remaining adult life. Double fried and often served with different sauces, Korean fried chicken is exceptionally crispy, never greasy, and very affordable. Also, a delivery guy on a scooter will bring it to you at all hours of the day and night, so it’s convenient as well as tasty.

9. Bulgogi. Bulgogi describes a way to prepare and cook meat, and can be made with various kinds of meat, but most commonly is made with beef or pork. The meat is sliced thin and seasoned with soy, spicy red sauce, garlic, ginger, and onion, and then stir-fried at a table-top skillet. The meat is then eaten either with rice, or wrapped into leaves of sesame or lettuce. A fan-favorite here in Korea is oh-ri gogi – or duck bulgogi.

10. Samgyetang. Samgyetang, a whole young chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled in a broth of Korean ginseng, dried seeded jujube fruits, chestnut, garlic, and ginger. This is very traditional and said to be extremely good for the health.

11. Bingsou. I’ve saved the best for last! Bingsou is shaved ice flakes, drizzled with milk, syrup, and usually other things depending on the variety. Most popular is the Paht Bingsuo – made with sweetened red beans (not my fave). I prefer more Western flavors – but the milk tea bingsou is my current must-have – especially in warm weather!

If you plan on staying for awhile…

1. Pack the following hard-to-find or exorbitantly expensive items: toothpaste, tampons, emergen-c/vitamins, OTC medications, shampoo/body wash (especially if you have perfume allergies!), salty snacks, french roast ground coffee and coffee filters. There’s probably tons of other stuff, but these are the things I missed.

2. Beauty/Skincare/Nail Products are EVERYWHERE and on EVERY street. These items are high quality and low cost – stock up! And for the record, my battle with my one eye wrinkle? I’m winning thanks to Innis Free’s Eco Science Skin (a toner goopy gel) and Lotion (a deep moisturizer).

3. Keep toilet paper handy. Public restrooms and toilets at restaurants are generally disgusting and often have no toilet tissue in the stall, so bring your own. Also, in Korea, toilet tissue is generally not flushed in public toilets, but disposed of in the trash can. This means all restrooms smell like an outhouse, even if they have plumbing. Also, learn to use a squatter toilet – they are everywhere!

4. Learn basic Hangul characters. Hangul, or the Korean alphabet, is actually relatively easy to memorize the shape and sound of the characters. If you can memorize a few key words, and learn how to sound out the characters, your time in Korea becomes exponentially easier. This only occurred for me in the past couple of weeks, so it’s been more difficult to maneuver around, but has in no way been impossible.

5. You will get homesick – or at the very least, home-curious. Buy a MagicJack. I cannot believe how this little plug-in has made my ability to keep in touch at home so much easier. It does feel like an old school landline, so it’s hit or miss if you reach people or if people reach you, but it has allowed me to talk to my friends and family at home virtually for free. Also – I have a googlevoice number that was really convenient for texting!

6. People don’t smile in photographs. This doesn’t mean people never smile or are unhappy. Culturally, smiling in photos is not customary and is not considered preferred. People flash the American “peace sign” which in Korea means “cute”!

7. Restaurant meals are very inexpensive, BUT they are Korean cuisine. Get used to grilled meats, stir-fries, fried chicken, noodles, rice, and panchan! If you can adjust to the sweet and vinegary taste of most Korean food, you can eat well on a tight budget.

8. Korean bus and taxi drivers are crazy. However, I’ve yet to see a traffic jam or an accident. This might be because I’m in a small town, or because of the time of day I travel on the streets, but it’s crazy to me that drivers who see red lights as optional never crash into each other.

9. The Korean Way also involves a lack of forward planfulness. Often, just showing up IS the plan. For Westerners who are used to a scheduled itinerary, maps, agendas, and structured thinking, this can be frustrating (read: infuriating) and lead to a lot of miscommunication. Also, generally asking for these items is confusing to Koreans, and SOMETIMES asking for a schedule/plan creates the perception that you are rude.

10. Your body is not used to general Korean germs, so be prepared to get a common cold that lasts forever. Or the stomach flu. Or weird allergies. Also, Koreans go to the hospital whenever they feel ill and usually get some kind of injection. This is normal, so don’t be upset or baffled when someone recommends you go to the hospital, it’s the equivalent of going to a minute clinic or a general practitioner.

11. Accept that you will not have perfect communication. Even with people whom you feel are fluent, cultural difference will abound and you should expect to be misunderstood. You should also expect to misunderstand. Be patient, keep trying, and recognize when you are difficult to understand to prevent future miscommunications.