I just signed a contract and it's official: I'm moving to South Korea to teach English for a year. What kind of crazy person decides to move to a country without knowing anything about it?! Okay, I am raising my hand sheepishly. I have been so focused on Latin America the last few years for studying, living, and traveling that I have just never learned much about east Asia.
I quickly realized that I better start doing some research. I'll be in the city of Gunsan, also spelled Kunsan, and here's what I've learned so far:
* It's on the coast! West coast too, so I'll get sunsets over the water. There is major fishing in the Yellow Sea and subsequently a lot of seafood in the diet and markets.
* Population is about half a million- large enough that there are things happening, but not so large as to be a crazy concrete jungle
* Lots of urban trails for running and cycling
* The city is supposedly fairly industrial, and a U.S. air force base is located on the outskirts.
* Korea is 70% mountainous and 30% arable land. Kunsan is in the main farming region
About Korea in general:
* One of the few countries that has been one nation with one language since its earliest history
* Korean is in the Ural-Altaic language family and very different from Chinese and Japanese. They originally had no written form of the language, and attempted to use Chinese characters to write Korean, which was extremely difficult and not very functional. Finally in 1446 the king's scholars INVENTED the Korean alphabet, and the shapes of the letters are based on the shape the mouth/tongue makes when forming that particular sound. How cool is that??!
* One of the highest literacy rates in the world
* They are 50% non-religious, 26% Christian, 23% Buddhist, 1% Confucian
* One of the most homogeneous ethnic populations in the world- 99.9% Korean
Well, it's not much, but I guess I will have a year to learn a lot more. I would also like to study Korean and be able to do some basic reading, writing, and speaking. And what better way to get acquainted with a new culture than to eat some of the food? There are quite a few Korean restaurants in Seattle, and my mom and I just checked out one here in the north end called Hosoonyi. We drove past it at first because the sign was in Korean. They have really good soondubu, which is a soft tofu soup that can be made with beef, pork, mushrooms, or seafood. We also tried Mae-Un-Dak, chicken barbeque, and Job-Chae, a veggie and beef dish with potatoe noodles. Apparently a signature part of Korean food is Banchan, which are the many little side dishes that accompany a base meal of rice and soup. Kimchee is the indispensable Banchan, usually fermented or pickled spicy napa cabbage, but can refer to other fermented/pickled veggies as well. Other Banchan may include seasoned bean sprouts, fish cakes, seaweed, marinated vegetables, kelp, dried fish, sweet potato, fried tofu, etc. I did not take this picture, but here is an example of Banchan at a meal.