Tag Archives: culture

How to Eat a Triangle Kimbap

On Sunday, when I wrote my Once Upon a Hike in Korea post, I mentioned bringing a triangle kimbap with me for food and I promised to explain what that was today.

First of all, for those of you who don’t know what kimpab is, it is a common Korean food made of rice and seaweed wrapped around various vegetables and meat, rolled up and cut into slices.



It is very common as a picnic or snack food and it is what moms often make for their kids when they’re going on a field trip.

Kimbap is usually made fresh, either at home or at a restaurant where they make it right there for you. However, there is another kind called triangle kimbap that is sold in convenience stores. It looks like this:

triangle kimbap 1

These come in many different types (usually various kinds of meat) but this one is my favorite: tuna mayonnaise. These tend to be less healthy than the regular variety and don’t have vegetables in them. As you can see, this cost 800 won, which is about 70 cents US, so they’re pretty cheap.

Another thing about these is that the shelf-life is insanely short, as it should be with anything like this. As you can see, the sell-by date is not just in days, but also in hours. This one was made at 9am on June 10 and was good until 22pm of June 11, or about an hour after I bought it.

Triangle kimbap 2

The thing about these is that the insides are wet and they’re surrounded by dry seaweed, so how do you keep the seaweed dry and crisp until you want to eat it? The answer is that the seaweed is wrapped separately in plastic from the inside but still wrapped around the rice. So, to open it without totally disassembling takes a special design. This is how you do it.

Step 1: Pull the middle tab, cutting the outer plastic totally in two.

Triangle kimbap 3

Step 2: Pull the two sides apart. You have to do this gently, since the seaweed is folded under and it’s fragile.

Triangle kimbap 4

The wrapping is all gone now. Now you can open up the seaweed and see what the inside is like. It’s basically a triangle of rice with an indentation where they put whatever kind of meat is in it.

Triangle kimbap 5

This is a great snack and easy to eat with your hands. And now, if you ever come across one, you’ll know how to eat it.

Triangle kimbap 6

I had never seen anything like this until I came to Korea, but I’m curious: is there anything like this in any other countries that you know of? I’m always interested in learning about other cultures.

Korean movie previews: And now for the coming distractions…

One of my favourite parts of going to the movie used to be the previews at the beginning. It was like getting to watch a bunch of free movies, almost harkening back to the days when your nickel got you a newsreel and a cartoon before the main feature. Honestly, I haven’t been to a movie in North America for a while (although I hear popcorn has to be purchased in gold now) but in Korea, the previews before a movies are a whole different thing.

Specifically, they’re advertisements. And there are a ton of them. It’s interesting to see trends change over time. There are always cellphone commercials, since this is Korea, but there used to be an insane amount of alcohol commercials. This last weekend, when I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness, there wasn’t a single one, which is good, I suppose. Here is a list of the commercials I did see before the movie though.

1. hanium.or.kr, which is an IT knowledge sharing project in Korea

2. Hanbit optometry

3. a spot about the rules of the theater (cellphones on vibrate, be courteous, etc), performed by a Korean skit comedy group, similar to Saturday Night Live

4. koreatree.or.kr (나라사랑큰나무), which, according to their website, is a campaign to promote patriotism, freedom, and hope in the future in Korea

5. Saemaeul financial association

6. a trailer for the Korean movie 마이 라띠마 (Mai Ratima), which is about a love affair between a lower-class Korean man and a Thai mail-order bride.

7. Nivea lotion

8. U+ LTE cellphone service (this is LG’s cellphone company. There are three cellphone carriers and they all advertised before this movie)

9. Nivea again

10. Maxim coffee, specifically what I call “coffee sticks”. It’s a thin tube with instant coffee, sugar, and creamer in it and makes about 150ml of coffee.

11. Hyundai Motor Group

12. Restylane, which apparently is a wrinkle remover.

13. Korean Air, specifically about flights to the Maldives, which I admit, looks pretty good

14. a Megabox theater announcement about fire exits, illustrated by the animated character, Pucca.

15. Hyundai again, although this one might have been for Hyundai real estate. I can’t remember.

16. Home CC, which is the interior decorating branch of a paint and chemical company, KCC. They own the basketball team in the city where I live.

17. LG: specifically for pocket-sized photo printers that connect to your cellphone.

18. a GPS system called 다본다 (Dabonda: “sees everything”)

19. a trailer for a movie called 은밀하게 위대하게 (Eunmilhage, Widaehage: “Secretly, Greatly”), which is an action/comedy about a North Korean sleeper agent in Seoul.

20. Samsung Galaxy S4 phone

21. Megabox commercial again (Megabox is the name of the theater I went to)

22. Chevy (ever since GM bought Daewoo a couple years ago, there are suddenly a lot of Chevy cars around. Besides that, it’s 95% Hyundai and Kia.)

23. a PSA against illegal sports gambling

24. Samsung Galaxy S4 again

25. Olleh Warp cellphone service (the cellphone service brand of KT)

26. Olleh Warp again

27. a trailer for the movie White House Down

28. U+ LTE cellphone service again, this time toting their unlimited voice plan

29. Megabox again

30. SK Telecom LTE unlimited


So, there you have it. 30 commercial in total, with only 3 movie trailers and only one of those an English movie. But then we got to see  Star Trek, so it was worth it.

This is the case at every single movie you go to here, although I guess after 8 years, I’ve gotten used to it. And honestly, it beats having to pay $20 for a bucket of popcorn.

Here's the movie I saw.

Here’s the movie I saw.

Chinese Food: Korean Style

If there is one food that is all over the world, it’s Chinese food. For most people, it’s not hard to believe that the food they eat at a Chinese buffet is not exactly what Chinese people eat every day at home, but what people don’t always realize is that Chinese food is not the same in every country. There were Chinese foods in Canada that I have never seen in the US and I have heard of differences in other countries as well.

However, nowhere (in my experience) is Chinese food as different as in Korea. I have heard that what is considered Chinese food in Korea comes from the northeast of China, but it is quite unique (except for fried rice: everywhere has fried rice). Here are the main dishes you see at Korean Chinese restaurants.


Jajangmyeon (자장면): Jajangmyeon is kind of the go-to Korean Chinese food. It is noodles in a black soybean-based gravy. It doesn’t have a strong flavor, but it’s very good. There is also jajangbap, which is the same, but with rice instead of noodles.



Jjambbong (짬뽕): This is the other main Chinese food here. Jjambbong means something like “hodge podge” so it’s a mixture of many things. As you can see by the color, it is very spicy. Jjambbong consists of noodles and various types of seafood such as squid, mussels, sea cucumber, and if you get the expensive stuff, a lot more. It also has a lot of onions in it.



Tangsooyook (탕수육): This is fried pork (or beef, if you want the really expensive stuff) served with a sweet and sour sauce. In some ways it is similar to sweet and sour pork in North America, although (in my opinion) it’s a ton better and also is a lot more expensive. A small serving is about $15 and a large is $20 or more. Of course, a small serving is enough for 2-3 people. This is one of those dishes that only comes in group sizes. Koreans almost always eat out together and so a lot of their food is geared towards groups (I have been turned away from restaurants for being alone, since they had nothing on the menu for only one person). This is one of my favorite Korean Chinese foods.


Japchae (잡채): This is the final mainstay of Korean Chinese food: japchae. This is perhaps a little more familiar looking. It is rice noodles mixed with meat and vegetables. It’s usually pretty mild, although some places make it really spicy.

Here’s what it looks like when you get it delivered:

chinese korean delivery

This is a meal that my wife and I ordered last November when we wanted to splurge. She got the fried rice and I got the jjambbong (lower right). The three-section dish in the lower center is a constant with Korean Chinese food: yellow pickled radishes (which are Korean, originally from Japan), black soybean paste, and raw onion pieces (not pictured, because my wife eats them immediately).

The tansooyook is in the middle, with a big bowl of its sauce. And as if that’s not enough food, they also threw in an order of mandoo, or dumplings, (upper right) for free. Because Korea is all about the free stuff.

They give you wooden chopsticks, but real spoons and real dishes. You eat and when you’re finished, you put them outside your door and the delivery boy comes and gets them later. I’m very glad this system works here, since using real dishes is so much nicer than styrofoam or paper.

I have grown very fond of Korean Chinese food but the problem is, that once I leave Korea, it will be very hard to find. It’s not Korean food, so you can’t find it in most Korean restaurants outside of Korea. And it’s not normal Chinese food, so Chinese restaurants don’t have any of it. There are restaurants in Korean districts, such as in New York or LA that have it, so I’ll have to make a trip to a city every now and then to get it. If you’re near a Korean district, I’d recommend seeking it out.

The Foreigner Card: Privilege Through Ignorance

Don’t you wish you had a get-out-of-jail card for small annoyances? If you’re a buxom blonde, maybe you do, but an easier way (at least if you look like me—neither buxom nor blonde) is to move to another country. In my case, Korea.

I’m not sure about other countries, but in Korea, we call it the foreigner card. It is an acknowledgement that as foreigners (i.e. non-Koreans), that along with all the disadvantages of living in a foreign culture, we have certain privileges by not fitting into the cultural system. It’s one of perks of living over here. Let me give you some examples.

  1. You are driving and run a red light. A policeman pulls you over, but upon seeing you’re a foreigner (and assuming you don’t speak Korean) he lets you go because he doesn’t want to deal with the situation.
  2. You want to return something at a store without a receipt. They refuse, saying it’s not the policy. You give them a blank look and keep nudging it towards them, saying juseyo (please give me) and eventually they just do it to make you go away.
  3. All the teachers at the school are going out to eat. Although there is mandatory attendance, you don’t want to go, so when they tell you about it—in Korean—you give a big smile and say, in English, “see you tomorrow” and just go home.

Now some of those are accidental and some are deliberate, but you get the idea. The idea is getting away with things that other can’t simply because we don’t fit in or people assume we don’t understand (or we pretend we can’t). Here’s why it works.

  1. We stand out. – I will never, ever pass for a Korean. I did have one man ask me if I was Korean, but he was either drunk or a bad guesser. I don’t stand out like a sore thumb; I stand out like a missing limb. If you happen to be black, then you stand out even more. Because of this, it is very easy for people to make judgments about us before we even speak. Here are some of the common stereotypes: foreigners don’t speak Korean; they don’t understand the culture; they’ve just arrived in Korea; and they insist on others speaking English.
This means "foreigner" in Korean

This means “foreigner” in Korean

And so on. The point is that even before I open my mouth, the other person has formed an opinion of me in their head.

  1. A lot of the stereotypes are true. – I’m not trying to bash foreigners living in Korea: I am one, and even though I speak Korean now, I didn’t when I got here. The truth is that there is a huge demand for English teachers here and speaking Korean is not one of the requirements. People often come for a year and then leave, which means they don’t have the time or motivation to learn much of the language. Because of this, they are forced to interact with Koreans with what they have: English and gestures, which can be frustrating for everyone involved. Some Koreans get so tired of going through this time after time that they just try to avoid it. Some shopkeepers type the price into a calculator and show it to me because they assume I wouldn’t understand them if they said it.
  2. Korean culture puts a high emphasis on service. – When you are a customer in Korea, then you are a king. Tipping isn’t practiced here and it’s very common for shopkeepers to throw in a bit extra or something free, just as good service. You run across people who don’t want to serve foreigners, but usually they will err on the side of good service.

On one hand, it’s very nice that people make exceptions for us at times, since as I said before, a lot of it is deserved. It is very humbling to live here without knowing the language, since you have to rely on others to help with a lot of things: setting up an account, going to the doctor, buying a cell phone, etc. However, some people try to game the system by pretending they are more ignorant than they are. Since people already assume we’re ignorant, why not use that to our advantage, right?

I try not to use the foreigner card if I can help it. Mostly because it’s dishonest if I deliberately pretending to be more ignorant than I am, but also because after living here for so long, I really want to fit in. I am very tired of always being the exception, even when it’s beneficial.

Also, I want people to know I speak Korean, because dealing with foreigners is very stressful for a lot of people. Koreans feel that because they study English in school, they should speak English when they meet a foreigner, not that the foreigner should speak Korean. I can see the fear in their eyes when I come into their shop, as they desperately try to remember everything their middle school teacher said while they were talking in the back of the class. So, I try to speak Korean as soon as possible to put them at ease. You can see some of them, usually younger people who have studied English, visibly deflate with relief when they realize you can speak Korean.

So, there it is: a way out of minor difficulties based on stereotypes, real and perceived language barriers, and cultural misunderstanding. Still, it’s nice to have it if you need it.

"Waygook" means foreigner

“Waygook” means foreigner. Source

What’s an Oppa? – My Interpretation of Gangnam Style

As someone who lives in Korea and speaks Korean, I have found it fascinating to see how wildly popular Gangnam Style has become all over the world, especially since the vast majority of the people listening to it have no idea what it is saying beyond “Gangnam Style …something, something … hey, sexy lady … something, something.”

In Korea, it is very popular too, although here it seems to fit better: after all, here it is just the latest in a line of many very popular Korean songs. It is still novel, but a little more normal than it is in other countries.

although parts are bizarre in any country.

although parts are bizarre in any country.

I am sure there are tons of places online where you can find translations of the lyrics and explanations, but here is my version. First though, there are two words that are important to know.

1. Oppa – This word has a lot packed into it. Literally, it means “older brother of a female”. However, it’s also something that girls call older guys of their generation, as well as their boyfriends. Since it’s possible in Korean to refer to oneself in the 3rd person, the singer (Psy) is calling himself this while talking to a girl. “Oppa Gangnam Style” here means “I am/have Gangnam style”

Interestingly enough, in the companion song to this 오빤 딱 내 스타일 (Oppan Ddak Nae Style) “You are Exactly My Style”, Hyun-Ah, the girl is singing, so when she uses the word oppa, it means “you”. Gotta love Korean. Context is everything.

2. Gangnam – You may have heard that Gangnam is a bit like Beverly Hills, which is true. It’s an area in Seoul and the name literally means “south of the river” which is where it is. It has a lot of tall buildings and expensive shops and is also known for its good schools. Because education is so prized here, parents sacrifice a lot to be able to live within the Gangnam school district. One difference between Gangnam and Beverly Hills is that here, everyone wants to live in an apartment, not a house. So in Gangnam, there are towering palatial apartment buildings, but almost no houses at all.

gangnam style

Gangnam Style

Verse 1

낮에는 따사로운 인간적인 여자

(A woman who is warm and human during the day)

커피 한잔의 여유를 아는 품격 있는 여자

(A woman who knows the proper way to drink a cup of coffee)

밤이 오면 심장이 뜨거워지는 여자

(A woman who heats up when night comes)

그런 반전 있는 여자

(That kind of two-sided woman)

나는 사나이

(I’m a man)

낮에는 너만큼 따사로운 그런 사나이

(A man who, during the day, is just as warm as you)

커피 식기도 전에 원샷 때리는 사나이

(A man who drinks coffee in one shot before it even cools)

밤이 오면 심장이 터져버리는 사나이

(A man whose heart breaks open (comes to light) at night)

그런 사나이

(That kind of man)


아름다워 사랑스러워

(Beautiful, lovely)

그래 너 (hey) 그래 바로 너 (hey)

(That’s you (hey), that’s exactly you (hey))


지금부터 갈 데까지 가볼까

(From now on let’s go to the extreme)

오빤 강남 스타일 [x5]

(Oppa Gangnam style)

Eh – Sexy lady

오빤 강남 스타일

(Oppa Gangnam style)

Eh – Sexy lady


(Eh eh eh eh eh)

Verse 2

정숙해 보이지만 놀 때 노는 여자

(A woman who seems modest but plays when it’s time to play)

이때다 싶으면 묶었던 머리 푸는 여자

(A woman who lets down her hair when she wants)

가렸지만 웬만한 노출보다 야한 여자

(A woman who covers up, but is wilder than if she showed a lot of skin)

그런 감각적인 여자

(That kind of sensuous woman)

나는 사나이

(I’m a man)

점잖아 보이지만 놀 때 노는 사나이

(A man who seems like a gentleman but plays when it’s time to play)

때가 되면 완전 미쳐버리는 사나이

(A man who goes totally crazy when the time comes)

근육보다 사상이 울퉁불퉁한 사나이

(A man who, more than muscles, has a rugged way of thinking)

그런 사나이

(That kind of man)


뛰는 놈 그 위에 나는 놈

(Leaping guy, a guy who’s flying overhead)

baby baby

나는 뭘 좀 아는 놈

(I’m a guy who knows a little something)


You know what I’m saying

오빤 강남 스타일

(Oppa Gangnam style)

Eh – Sexy lady

오빤 강남 스타일

(Oppa Gangnam style)


blowing up old men? Sure, why not?

Blowing up old men? Sure, why not?

So, this is basically a song about a guy trying to pick up a girl by showing that he is the new type of the Korean man, the “Gangnam” Korean. The problem is that there is not a lot attractive (or at least sexy) about modern society. Korean men work very long hours and just like anywhere, office workers are not as strong and fit as men who work outdoors (note the line: “A man who, more than muscles, has a rugged way of thinking”). This song is all about dual roles: one way during the day, another way at night. Modern society is pulling us different ways and this song embraces that.

Of course, this is also satire. Psy is poking fun at a lot of aspects of modern society. For instance, the references to coffee. Coffee is a fairly recent fad in Korean and is still somewhat of a luxury item (it’s not uncommon for a regular latte to cost $5-6 at a coffee shop). Also, it is strictly a social drink, not something people usually drink in the mornings at home. Psy is joking that a real man pounds coffee, just like shots of soju with his friends.

It’s also just a fun song.

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