Random Shots & Thoughts, Part 2

May 5, 2010

Continued from Part 1….Click to enlarge photos…

Subway.  Confirmed: there’s definitely a lot of Koreans here…

Worm hole to Canada with an open-door policy? This has been moved to the top of my to-do list….

Aggressive, avant-garde urinal placement….

Coolest hand-dryer ever?…

A voluptuous and sexy, evening bibimbap…


Random Shots & Thoughts, Part 1

May 5, 2010

Click photos to enlarge.

A chic, lazy-afternoon Jeon-Ju bibimbap….

Random, inconsequential streets…

Modest red-light district establishment?…..

Somewhat disappointed to find out this was NOT an automobile plant, but, rather, an Hyundai department store…and, incidentally, the birth mother of my chic bibimbap pictured above…


The Great Shake

May 5, 2010

One of the great customs in Korean culture is the importance placed on bowing.  Whether buying gum from a street vendor or exiting a restaurant following an expensive meal, one usually encounters a reverent-type bow.

Sort of like this…

I caught a paparazzi-style, before-and-after shot of a group bow for a car entering the lot of Shinsegae Department Store…

One major aspect of my excitement to return to Korea was to get back into the bowing game.

In this context, I pondered whether meeting my new Korean boss may require me to perform a special bow.  Perhaps a straight-up 90 degree bow? Kind of like Obama…

Or maybe a shocking 45 degree bow?

Of course, I came to realize that such types of bows may have work and social implications that I would not like.

Anyways, neither option came to fruition, as I was greeted by the boss with the warmest and longest handshake in my life.  At least 35 seconds long.  Pretty cool, albeit unexpected and a tad close to the awkward side of greetings.

And on a serious front, I think that the act of bowing – ignoring any social or political ramifications – is a very humbling experience that serves as a reminder that we are all part of a much larger, collective universe.

The Conversation

May 5, 2010

On the advice of my dear friends, L & S, I spent the last month in Los Angeles completely dominating the Paris Baguette Cafes.

Surprisingly, these bakeries are of Korean provenance, despite the misleading name.  They have several locations in CA, and a few scattered ones on the east coast.  And, most importantly, their pastries are great.

Anyways, my stellar field research at Paris Baguette in LA contributed to my extraordinary hubris for my grand entrance to Korea: clearly, no one could eff with my Korean food credentials.  And nothing could stop me once there.

Well, apparently, I can be stopped.  Hard.  And in multiple ways.

Method 1:  They won’t serve me.

As soon as I cleared customs at Incheon Airport in Seoul, the first retail establishment I encountered, obviously, was a small Paris Baguette outpost.  Holy effin sh!t, my culinary luck was not to be stopped on this journey (see my post, “The First One”).  I was so pleased that my Paris Baguette domination would be extending to both sides of the oceans.  My domination, soon, would be absolute.

Naturally, I began a light jog towards the retail counter, as I couldn’t possibly withstand the delay that walking would entail.  With embarrassing excitement, and the voice pitch of a seven-year old girl on a sugar high, I requested my favorite coffee — an iced coffee with milk and simple sugar — from the demure Korean woman behind the counter.  Unfortunately, not only was she displeased with my school-girl antics, she also had no effin clue what I was saying.  Sh!t.  I was expecting more English at the airport.

Somehow, I ended up with some awful hot coffee on ice, watered down, and with no milk.

Paris Baguette Seoul 1     Me 0

Here she is in all her beauty:

Method 2: No one in Korea has ever heard of Paris Baguette

After several days of recovering from my Paris Baguette bloodbath at the airport, I reclaimed my Korean food hubris.  In turn, I decided that I must bond with a Korean over my LA domination of the pastry shop.  Absolutely, I resolved, I had to do this if I was ever going to live with myself.  And sure enough, I found two Korean subjects for my plan.

“How amazing is Paris Baguette?” I asked.

Korean subject #1, a shy Korean girl in her 20’s, replied “What?”

“Paris Baguette” I replied s-l-o-w-l-y.

Korean subject #2, #1’s sidekick, quipped “What are you talking about?” (in broken English)

“P-A-R-I-S B-A-G-U-E-T-T-E”, I uttered with stunning diction.

Then, we all “enjoyed” thirty seconds of complete, collective silence.  “Sh!t,” I thought, “no one has even effin heard of Paris Baguette in Korea.”

Twenty more seconds eclipsed.  “This is unbelievably awkward and humiliating,” I kept thinking.

But, then, like a beautiful food goddess emerging from a piping hot clay oven with a dol sot bibimbap in hand, I got a glimpse of recognition from Korean subject #1.  She exclaimed “Ohhhhhhhhh!” “PAH RI BA GET TA!”

Well, I suppose Paris Baguette, then, is not really Paris Baguette in Korea.  They’ve never heard of that. Rather, it’s called PAH RI BA GET TA.

This begs the question: Do I stick to my guns and still refer to it as Paris Baguette? Or should I deconstruct all of my English vocabulary on a going-forward basis to ensure my English words sound, for example, more like PAH RI BA GET TA.  Any thoughts?

FYI, there is a sole New York location in Queens, and don’t tell them you know me:  http://www.parisbaguetteusa.com/

Heroic Decision

May 5, 2010

Nervously approaching North Korean airspace on the flight over here,  our pilot made an heroic decision to adjust our latitude southward at the last moment.

As watched in real-time by bibimbapgood (and Elbows)…

As an aside, I would have had no qualms if the pilot had also decided to circle Vladivostok, Russia (just north of North Korea)  several times, unnecessarily, before landing us in Seoul.  In fact, if I had a choice, I probably would’ve chosen that route: just to say I’ve circled Russian air space would have been worth the extra flight time that I’d be forcing all of my fellow passengers to endure.

My First Cultural War

May 2, 2010

My first cultural war began just a few minutes into my flight to Seoul.  While I was warmly welcomed by my seat-mates on the flight — an elderly Korean couple in their 70’s (yes, I stared at their passports later on in the flight) — little did I know that I was about to go to war.

Here’s the deal: three seats on the left-hand side of the plane, with the following line-up:

Window –> Me.

Middle –> Older Korean man, to be referred to as “My elbows have absolutely no regard for the white man on my left”, or “Elbows” for short.

Aisle –> Older Korean woman, husband of middle seat, and to become known as “The Bibimbap Woman”.

Immediately, Elbows’ strategy became clear: He overtly displayed his warm personality and adorable Korean grandfather tendencies towards me.  And then, masterfully, he shifted into battle mode, immediately occupying 20% of my air space (i.e., arm space). FOR. THE. ENTIRE. FLIGHT.  FML.

Obviously, this became an intense war, with bloody elbows inevitable.  Unfortunately, he won this cultural war before it started, and that’s because of the role that Confucianism plays in Korean society: I must respect the elders.  I tried to fight back, thinking that I could get away with being a naive foreigner.  Obviously, I lost: “Checkmate, Elbows. Checkmate.”

As an aside, I refer to his wife as the Bibimbap Woman because during the entire 13 hour flight, she only said one thing to me:  As soon as I began eating my bibimbap, she immediately arose with excitement and asked whether I like bibimbaps.  Hah! Little did she know that I was the soon-to-be-domain owner of Bibimbapgood.com, before she ever had a chance to godaddy it.  Yet, curiously, despite that intense bonding over our joint bibimbap-love, she never said anything again to me for the remaining 12 hours.

Here’s an approximation of my seat-mates, the “Korean power couple”…

“The First One”

May 2, 2010

Holy sh!t, Korean Air does not mess around: less than one hour into my flight to Seoul, I was delivered my first (of thousands?) bibimbap in my new Korean chapter of life.  What an awesome beginning!  Having prided myself on becoming an obnoxious, bibimbap connoisseur over the years, I became giddy at the dirty food porn about to ensue.

While this particular bibimbap was slightly below average, it will always be “The First One”…

(That mi-yeok-gook (seaweed soup) in the lower right-hand corner was actually pretty damn good)

((You can enlarge all photos on this blog by clicking on them.))

I’ll bite…

May 1, 2010

As most of you know, I was hesitant about putting up a blog for many reasons.  Yet, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of you adamantly requested that I do this.  So eff it: here it is…

[please keep me anonymous in the comments]