Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why does Korea Make us so Angry?

Picture by Charles LeBlanc (
Why is it that so many people get so upset about Korea while living in Korea?  I have never sensed the same acrimony about living in Japan or South East Asian countries, not even China.  When bad things happen in these countries, people get upset and move on more easily than Korea, it seems.  Is it simply that Korea is attracting only angry Westerners to its shores?

This was something I was musing on the other day while one of my uncle in-laws was talking to me over some spicy grilled eel (one of my favourites) outside his house.  I was in a good mood, eating happily away when he started a conversation about England in comparison to Korea.  He started with history and said, "America and the UK have only short histories, not like Korea.  You know Korea has a great history that goes back 5000 years?"

Firstly, why he lumped the US in the conversation is anyone's guess (Roboseyo might have the answer), but I suspect that, try as he might, even knowing that I am not American, he still can't quite bring himself to separate me from them.  In fact, many of my relatives regularly ask me questions about the US, to which 95% of the time, I simply say, "I have no idea."  Despite this, the questions still get asked and the message has not quite sunk in that I almost certainly know more about Korea than I do the US.

I can't help but feel I would have better received his comment if he had just forgotten about the comparison between countries and just said, "You know Korean history goes back 5000 years?" and left it at that, and then we could have had an interesting discussion about Korean history (something he might also know something about), albeit in my rather shoddy level of Korean.  I guess what he said was true about the US, it does have a young history, but the UK, not so much.  And as well as the fact he clearly knew nothing about the history of the British Isles, he had a goading, belittling, and magnanimous tone that encouraged a defensive response.  If I had been American I would have been tempted to say (as I got semi-offended on their behalf), "Well, I know your country has been around a long time, but....." you can add any number of responses here considering the great influence the US has had and still has on the world and has had on Korea itself.

The same goes for the UK of course, I had an overwhelming urge to list everything great about my country compared to his.  Also, unless we are talking about a continuous culture, the same race, or the same borders, the history of almost any country goes back over 5000 years, doesn't it?  But why did I have this longing to bite back?  I am not normally like this, I am not always so overly proud to be British, in fact I hate patriotism in many ways.  Why should I really be proud of a history I had no part in, based on the mere accident of my birth in that particular country? Logically speaking, it has never made that much sense to me.

Perhaps I am simply not immune to an innate form of tribalism that we all have, or perhaps it was also a combination of factors, like the inaccuracy, the ignorance, and the magnanimity of the way he was speaking, with all the authority given to him by his age and status as an older man in Korea.  There is just something about a Korean older man who speaks with confidence and authority on something that he knows absolutely nothing about and in a way that is clearly self-promoting that raises my heckles.  This biting reflex may be a natural Western instinct to rebel against authority.  This freedom to question and even grill the views of the supposedly superior is a great thing, which of course has some disadvantages in our societies when it comes to law and order, but is necessary for progress and freedom of expression.

Now, the very act of disagreeing with my uncle in-law tends to cause a bite-back response from him as well because - even when he is dead wrong about something that he obviously knows nothing about - he simply is not used to being told so.  So what could have started out as a friendly and interesting conversation about history, has turned into subtle slights on each other's culture when he probably had no previous quips about the UK with me, and I none about Korea with him.  I was starting to pick up that this was indeed what was happening, so started to check my tongue.  He however, wasn't quite done.

Picture by Leonard Bentley (

Next came the inevitable comment about smog (I don't know how many times Korean people have brought this up to me).  He also added how much cleaner the air must be for me now I am in Korea.  I had to correct him on this by saying that we no longer have smog because we don't really use coal as an energy source anymore (I think we stopped having smog when my mother was a child).  Since we stopped using it, we now don't have smog and that sometimes we have fog because we are quite a damp country, but the two are quite different and should not be confused.  I held back from saying that the air quality in the UK is undoubtedly better than Korea because the weather comes from thousands of miles across the Atlantic ocean and not from energy-hungry China and other highly populated and therefore fossil fuel burning parts of Asia.  There is evidence also to back this up.

Bizarrely, on a trip to Suncheon Bay with my parents (who were in Korea for my wedding) we were interviewed by a woman working for Gwangju kbc television and she reiterated much of the same sort of stuff.  After a few questions about how we felt about being there and how beautiful it was, it came up again, the comparison question: "How do you feel about being in Korea in this beautiful nature compared to England?"  It was an odd and uncomfortable question and the tone suggested she wanted an answer something along the lines of, "Yes, the air is so much fresher and the scenery so much more beautiful than my own country."  My mother and I sensed the gist of the question and gave a measured response saying how beautiful Korea was but also how England was just as pretty and picturesque, but perhaps in a less rugged and mountainous way.  She didn't seem overly satisfied with those answers, but it was better than my father's; he simply said - in his rather strong London accent - "Well, I'm not really a nature person."  The look on the reporter's face was golden.

Suncheon Bay in the background, two idiots in the foreground.
I digress, so anyway back to my uncle in-law.  After a few more back-handed comments about my country he then got round to giving me advice about how to raise a puppy given to me by my father in-law.  It was like chewing on glass to have to tolerate being told terrible advice about raising a dog even more than it was being told about the failings of my country of birth (compared to the mighty South Korea), especially as I knew how he treated his own dogs when they were alive.

As I have mentioned before in a previous post, my uncle in-law had two Jindo dogs a couple of years ago, which he tied up in the driveway and that he never walked - they simply stayed there for their whole life - with no bed or significant shelter in the heat of summer, the cold of winter and in the wind, rain, and snow. This would have been enough for me to disrespect his views on animal welfare already, but when I asked my wife one day why they had disappeared from his driveway, she said that he had sold them for dog meat because they were getting old and he didn't want them anymore.  Only yesterday did I learn that one of those dogs was actually my own dog's grandfather.

Coincidentally, this all happened just a few days before South Korean professor Kim Seong-kon at the Korea Herald released an article about Korean mothers, which was perhaps the very definition of diabolically awful, ill-formed, nationalistic nonsense, and quite rightly received a number of rebukes, first at Asiapundits, then by the boss at, and then my favourite of all by Roboseyo.  Actually, I was a little peeved with Roboseyo's post at the same time as it said precisely what I wanted to say about how Korea can wind us all up the wrong way sometimes and their reasons for it, plus it was done probably a lot better than I could have done it.  So check it out and I won't repeat anything here, he at least saved me some time in writing.

So in summary then, I understand the difference in culture and I know that some things will just get my goat because they are different and it is simply not what I am used to.  I think I have the means to fight these kinds of feelings, but perhaps the biggest reason for me to bite is this nasty little habit that so many older Koreans have of dishing out advice that is not only not asked for, but is for their own benefit, self-promoting, ignorant, vindictive, wrong, and magnanimous all at the same time.  Then, running a close second is the other tendency some Koreans have to shamelessly promote their own country as the best, whilst at the same time belittling others often right in the face of that particular country person, without having even the tiniest snippet of knowledge about their country.  Yes, I think I have figured out why I get a little snappy sometimes.

I sort of get why many often feel compelled to do preach advice and to compare the rest of our countries unfavourably to theirs, and I do feel genuine sympathy for what has happened to Korea in the past.  I also know that I should just be the bigger man and take it all with a smile on my face, yet at the same time, sometimes it is perfectly natural and right to become a little annoyed with it all.  More importantly, perhaps it is even our responsibility to respond and be upset, to ourselves, to others, and to the perpetrators of this stuff themselves.


Friday, September 27, 2013

My Korean Wedding - Part 2

Picking-up from where we left-off from last week then, preparations had been done - mostly not by me - and the studio photos had been taken, so it was time for the big day. 

We arrived about 3 to 4 hours before the start of the ceremony to be dressed and made to look ultra-pretty.  I didn't need to get that much done so I spent most of the time sitting around outside with my Mum and Dad, who had come to Korea specially for the wedding.  My mother had come to Korea before, but it was the first time for my father.  They both weren't really sure what to expect or what to do, but I just told them that everything would be extremely different to what they are used to and to simply enjoy a day of culture which most people in the world couldn't buy with all the money in the world.

By the time the actual day of the wedding came around I wasn't as anxious about the quality of it as I had been a few weeks before.  This was to the credit of the people at the wedding venue and the venue itself.  As I said last week, it was a really nice place and the staff were extremely attentive and helpful.  Because of all of this, I was in fine spirits about the wedding.

The only thing that was bringing me down slightly was my wife.  This was partly understandable because of the amount of stress she was suffering from leading up to the wedding.  She had a great many things to sort out, not only because of the wedding, but also because she was going to Australia to study shortly after (I am following her there next year) and because of my parents.  My parents really didn't need any worrying about as I was more than capable of taking care of them, but there was quite a lot of pressure on her to translate and from her own parents to make sure they were well looked-after.  My in-laws - I have heard - are not the exception when it comes to worrying about the parents of their daughter's husband and no amount of assurance that the endless etiquette and stresses and strains of a typical Korean family situation need not apply in our circumstances would calm them down about it.  Still, because of this, my wife was ever-so slightly driving me round the bend for a few days up to our wedding day.  Thankfully, the burden visibly lifted off her shoulders as the day progressed and by the end of the day she was back to the her wonderful self and not the fire breathing dragon she had temporarily been in the days previous.

While I was outside chatting to my Dad, I was watching the people who were getting married before us and chuckled slightly when a BMW covertible drove up for pictures and drove the bride about 20 metres to the wedding hall.  The bride sat on the top of the passenger seat and I could here lots of the relatives commenting on the car, which I knew was specifically chosen because it was european and "classy".  It was a bit silly really.  Little did I know, however, that my wife and I were to receive exactly the same routine.  It actually made me smile and was just the start of quite an amusing day.

About a thousand photos later, we had eventually arrived inside the wedding hall, a little early so we could meet and greet the guests.  My parents and I had to wait and greet everyone at the front, my mother looking fantastic in her Hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) and all of us wearing white gloves.  I was determined not to wear these because I had seen them present at every Korean wedding I had seen and didn't really understand the necessity of them, they just reminded me of a snooker referee.  However, when I handed them back to the woman who gave them to me and insisted a couple of times that I didn't want to wear them, her and the rest of the staff looked so shocked that I thought they would stop the wedding.  So adamant they were that I must wear them, I ended-up caving in and putting them on.

While we were waiting for guests, the guests from the other wedding were pouring out and giving me and my family a few stares.  My Mum and Dad were staring back and commenting on how under-dressed many of them seemed, especially the older people.  Older men and women were walking out in tracksuits, hiking clothing, T-shirts and trainers - not what they were expecting.  Even some of the younger people were extremely casually dressed for the occasion.  We were all quite amused by the sights and sounds of the place, but there was one person that was taking the whole thing deadly seriously.

It was my father in-law that insisted on us having a wedding service in Korea for family reasons, to make it all official with everyone, so he was mightily concerned that the family were all meeted and greeted with the utmost care and attention.  Unfortunately for him, I had no idea what was going on in the service itself, so one of the wedding hall staff took me aside to explain what was going to happen.  My father in-law wasn't happy with me leaving my greeting spot and twice came to pull me back, on the second occasion he was visibly angry with the member of staff and while everyone else was smiling and laughing about the uniqueness of the whole thing, he sported the face of the iconic bulldog chewing a wasp.

Despite all the explanations, my parents and I still had no idea what was really going to happen and after a few bows from everyone to each other my wife and I finally made it to the platform.

My Korean language ability has improved lately, however the language being used by the master of ceremonies was obviously quite poetic and a bit outside of my everyday Korean conversations and we had no interpreter.  With this in mind then, my wife did the duties.  My ear turned to her mouth, I simply smiled and nodded through most of it.  I think our guests were quite amused by it all as there was always a delay between sentences as things were explained to me. 

He finally came towards the end and asked in Korean, "it is now time for you to show how much you love your wife" (or something like that).  This sentence was put in such a way, however, it was quite difficult to translate and even once I got the meaning , I then asked my wife, "like how?", and apparently that was up to me.  It all took a couple of minutes to get this straight, though, and those gathered began to murmur and giggle and when we just told the man to skip that bit we got a few more laughs.  It was all working well, despite this, because it was adding to the charming amusement and unique feeling of the day.  I could get the feeling that all our guests were engaged in the ceremony, interested in what was happening, something that I had not experienced in other wedding days in Korea as most people just chatted their way through them and left early to eat.

It appeared, though, that someone had made plans to force me into proving my love for my wife with a few other activities.  I was not surprised that something would happen after the official business because I had seen it before at other weddings.  Usually, a friend or friends of the bride or groom would do a performance, which was often cringe-worthy to sit through.  A couple of such people had offered to do so at our wedding but my wife and I quickly, but politely, refused.  I had three tasks to complete in-front of everyone: The first was to shout, "나는 봉 잡았다!" as loudly as I possibly could (roughly translated it means, "I caught a good one", or something along those lines (see picture below).

The second task was to do ten press ups with my wife sitting on my back.  I was a little worried I might split my suit and I was already quite hot, but managed it fine with a little embarassment.  I was also thankful that my wife had lost a little weight recently.

The third was to do a ten second kiss, which is actually quite difficult to do if you can't use your tongue (definitely no tongues infront of a Korean audience) as it just doesn't come naturally.

With my missions complete, and the people thoroughly amused we only had all the photos and the food to come, while my wife, her close family and I proceeded to the traditional service.

Unlike my friend Darren, I was not especially comfortable with the idea of changing into the traditional clothes for the Korean service.  They looked ridiculous on me and I also wanted to feel comfortable at my own wedding and celebrate where I was from.  I am not Korean, so in my mind, I didn't want to dress like one.  I also wanted to make a statement to a Korean family, who I really like, but am also slightly weary about with how much they like to control my actions sometimes.  I wanted to say that on my day, that I would be doing it my way with no negotiations and no compromises, this was how it was going to be, because I said so, period.  Begrudgingly, they agreed on this before the day, which is why the suit stayed on.

I really enjoyed the traditional part afterwards, I keep using the word 'unique', but it really was and my parents thoroughly enjoyed such an interesting cultural experience.  We poored drinks for our relatives, bowed, and received money in return.  Towards the end, I had to piggy-back my wife around the room and then my wife had to catch a selection of chestnuts and dates (I think that is what they were) in her dress that her parents threw to determine how many children we would have and what sex they would be.  Apparently, we are going to have 4 daughters, which I really hope is a prediction that doesn't come true; 2 children maximum, thank you.

Overall, the atmosphere created by the day was a memorable one.  It was a wedding without too much cliche, that didn't take itself too seriously, wasn't cheap looking, had a great sense of fun, was definitely original, and perhaps most importantly, created great memories for my wife and I.  These are memories we could not have expected to be so cherishable because of our fears about what might have been.  This made everything that much more wonderful and I couldn't have wished for a better day.  The only thing would have been great is if more of my family and friends from England could have come, but I understood that this was not really possible.

What I didn't also realise was the tremendous relief of not having an English style wedding.  The whole thing was over in about 3 hours, it didn't cost us an arm and a leg, we were able to relax afterwards and not have to entertain others, and we also didn't have to worry about impressing anyone, at home or in Korea.  The originality of the fusion of cultures made it something that was not really comparable to anything else, we had managed to transcend all of that without even trying to be different or special, it just was.

Coinicidentally, my best friend from back home in England had a wedding two weeks later.  His was a super-traditional English church wedding, with the reception in a village manor house.  It looked spectacular, and from the pictures I have seen, exactly how I would picture a perfect English wedding to be.  I wish I could have been there and I wish he could have been at my wedding, but I am happy things worked out so well for both of us.  Our respective weddings suited our own characters perfectly and although we couldn't experience each other's at first-hand, we are both lucky guys to have married the women we love and in a manner which suited us so well.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Korean Wedding Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I had what I thought would never happen, an actual wedding in Korea.  Now, just in case you are confused, I have already been married for over three years, but as I explained in a previous post, this was a British Consulate job.  The reason for it was I was in love and desperate to be with my now wife, despite the fact I was leaving Korea and going home to England.  At the time, I was having such a terrible time in Korea that I thought I may not return, but I could not bear the thought of leaving without her.

I knew that my wife's parents wanted to organise a proper wedding.  Many of their relatives did not know we were married and my in-laws also did not want to tell them because the way we got married was so unusual.  However, I thought it highly unlikely we would have a more official ceremony because they did not have enough money and I was saving to put my wife through nursing college in Australia.  I told them - in a typically Korean indirect manner, (not quite like this) "I will happily have a wedding, but you will have to pay for it."

Much to my surprise, they were able to pay and the great thing about Korean weddings is that you get most of the money you spent on it back through the guests that you invite anyway, as they all give some money. They hadn't broken the bank after all, so my conscience was clear as well.

It all seemed perfect then, didn't it?  I was getting a wedding day and I wasn't paying a penny or indeed organising anything!  Perfect!  The only thing was that both my wife and I were not really looking forward to it.  The reason for this is that we had both been present a quite a few other Korean weddings and, with the exception of one (my Australian friend's rather unique and interesting traditional service) we had hated every single one of them, or should I say hated the thought of our day being like it (I rather enjoyed the food at each occasion).
My friend's wedding, a couple of months before mine, was very traditional and it really suited his character.  I could have never pulled it off, but he really did and it was a great day.
Let's start with the venues; the wedding halls that Korean people typically get married in are, to me, the least tasteful places imaginable; flashing lights, stupid themes, and embarrassing performances littered many of the ceremonies I have witnessed.  There is a cringeworthy feeling about the whole thing and a cheapness and lack of class about it all.  This was the first fear for my own wedding, especially as I was sure my in-laws would be trying to do it all as cheaply as possible.

Secondly - partly caused by the venue itself - I hated the atmosphere created by the organisation of the ceremony itself and the manners of the guests.  Wedding Hall marriages seemed to resemble a food hall, with people wondering in and out of the ceremony as they pleased and those from the next wedding waiting in line behind them.  Doors to the back of the room where the service took place would be wide-open; people talked through the readings and the vows and babies cried at the back of the room.  Fear number two for my own wedding, and I could imagine my head exploding at the thought of crying children and nattering old ladies spoiling our big moment.

Lastly, most of the weddings I had attended as a guest had a very anti-climatic feel about them and a complete lack of romance or magic.  The services ended quickly and even though they were fast many people would not stay and hastily embarked for the food before the end.  Unlike an English wedding, there was no big party afterwards, no dance between bride and groom, no drunken antics, and none of the majesty and tradition an old English manor or church can convey.  Korean weddings lacked that special something, that x-factor I had seen in most weddings in England.  English weddings were beautiful, Korean weddings were like a factory line of benign similarity, cliche themes, and too much haste.

For all these reasons and more, I was not that optimistic about how my own wedding would pan out.  However, in what turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises - perhaps of my life - it turned out to be an absolutely perfect day; one that suited my wife and I in almost every way possible and on a number of levels.

You see, the human mind is a strange thing, it yearns for the approval from others and to show-off - a couple of things I have always hated about the concept of getting married - over and above actual happiness, much of the time.  Essentially, most weddings are a big, expensive showing-off exercise that has bankrupted many right at the beginning of their married life.  For one day of extravagance, many people pay the price of an increased financial burden, sometimes for the rest of their married life.  It actually stresses the most important aspect of it all, i.e. the marriage and the relationship itself.  I'm not even going to talk about those who divorce and marry again, incurring even more expense for another marriage.

This was the first burden that was off my shoulders; the whole thing cost us nothing.  In fact, we actually made a few hundred pounds out of it, amazing!  Sounds shallow and money-grabbing, I know, but one can't deny the relief of it and the weight it took off my shoulders.  Added to this was absolutely zero stress in organising anything for yours truly.

A couple of months before the wedding, in about the only thing I had a hand in doing, I went to a couple of wedding halls with my in-laws, and after one truly awful place I was delighted to find quite a quiet, less flamboyant, but classy wedding hall on the outskirts of our town.  My wife's parents weren't that happy about it because the ease of getting there was not quite as good as the other one for all their relatives.  With this in mind, my wife nudged me to make a real fuss about how much nicer this place was (which it really was) to make sure they caved-in to our wishes, so I put on an oscar-winning performance to win them round.  I am glad I did, because I still have not been to any other wedding place in Korea that looked so nice.  Worry number one about the service negated.

Once we had selected the venue, we were taken inside to agree what we wanted for the package, which included a photo shoot.  The wedding photo shoot is what almost everyone does in Korea a few weeks before the wedding and is professionally done in a proper studio.  I had seen the photo albums of this at other weddings and I must admit it was one of the few things that I was impressed with about weddings in Korea.  It seemed a nice touch and was something that would remind us of how we were when we were married - and in our physical prime - in years to come.

I had been warned about the shoot itself from my Australian friend, Darren, who got married a couple of months before.  He said it was about seven hours of posing, sweating, and boredom and he feared for my sanity.  I must say that I have a debt to pay him for telling me about it because, mentally prepared for what was to come, I came through the whole experience in pretty good spirits.  In fact, it was my wife who looked more frustrated with it all, probably because she had more dress changes and attention given to her and her poses had to be more elaborate than mine.

I might be bias, but my wife looked absolutely stunning in all the pictures.
The studio were fantastic and also very efficient in getting the huge number of photos taken back to us on e-mail so we could choose the best for the album and for some photo frames.  I was very impressed with the pictures and was very glad we had it done.  All I had to put up with was a little mickey-taking from back home when some of mates saw the odd photo leaked onto facebook by my wife.  But my wife and I looked great, so I didn't care.

Next week in part 2, the wedding day itself.
The pictures included some taken in Hanbok as well.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Korean Food and Why it is so Great - Part 2

Sorry for the delay in this post, but I have had a busy few weeks with a wedding, parents coming to Korea, my wife leaving for Australia to study, and being given a white Jindo puppy from my father in-law to look after.  Because of this, however, there will be some interesting posts coming up in the next few weeks.  I thought I had better finish off my love affair with Korean food first, though.

Following on from last week, I think an interesting part of any country's cuisine is the trying of foods that make you squirm a little, the delicacies that you can amaze your friends and family by saying you've tried when you get back home, so this is where we will start part 2.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Live Octopus (산낙지) - most commonly this is only the tentacles cut up and served with some seasame oil and salt on the side.  Still wriggling, the tentacles must be chewed quite a lot to avoid the suckers sticking to your throat on the way down.  The taste is really not that bad at all.  If you want some really hardcore delicacy action, however, you can eat the whole octopus live by wrapping it around some chopsticks and putting it all in.  I have never tried this, and I am slightly fearful to do it as I have heard that people die eating it like this, especially when already a little tipsy on soju.  The octopus obviously sticks inside peoples throats and chokes them to death.  I don't fancy picking up a Darwin Award for such silly night-time antics.

San Nakji by LWY at flickr

Fermented Ray (홍어) - I have never tasted anything worse.  I am a great admirer of Bear Grylls and if you have watched any of his shows you will know that he will eat just about anything and I am similar.  I don't tend to gag or have any prejudices about eating anything (I do draw the line at dog, however).  I have eaten 홍어 twice, it is usually served with a bit of fatty grisley pork and kimchi, but it doesn't manage to take the taste away, which is truly horrible and the closest I have ever come to being sick right-away after eating something.  The pungent smell of the fermented fish also gets right up your nose.  Worth a try once, but be warned!

Silk Worm Pupa (번데기) - These are often sold as snacks in little paper cups on street stalls and I rather like them.  One cup is quite filling as it must be quite high in protein.  Apparently (so Bear Grylls says), insects - pound for pound - contain more protein than beef.  As a keen hiker, it is difficult to carry high protein and cheap foods with you on a hike, so I have gotten into the habit of carrying a tin or two hiking with me and either eating them straight out of the tin or putting them in a sandwich with some tomato ketchup.  I also cook 번데기 fried rice for dinner sometimes, although my wife says it gives me bad breath, so I am banned from eating this when she is around and she accuses me of eating 'pig food'.  Seeing as she has gone to Australia, however, I can eat with freedom for a while, and in fact, the first two nights she was away, I ate it both nights.  It ain't great, but it is nutritious and cheap.

Raw Seafood (회) - If you go to a raw seafood restaurant in Korea, you can sample some really great, tasty and healthy food, but there are some slightly dodgy things on the menu also and if you are with some mischievous Koreans they might well order it for you, as happened to me one week into my Korean experience many years ago.  A couple of the more, shall we say, acquired tastes are Sea Squirt and Gae Bul (a pink sea spoon worm that looks like a penis and obviously good for a man's stamina in bed).  The Gae Bul was as bad as the 홍어 and the sea squirt was just bizarre and difficult to eat.

Gae Bul: Photo by J. Patrick Fischer

Great Soups

Eel Soup (장어탕) - I have this at school quite a lot and I have to say that I get quite excited when I see it in the pot.  Usually, the whole eel is ground up into a paste in the soup so you eat bones, sinew and all amoungst the other ingredients and it is very spicy.  As with many dishes in Korea, it is a whole lot better than it sounds.  I did once have it with sliced sections of eel in it, however, on Geoje island, which wasn't so good because I had to spit out a lot of bones, but the soup still tasted great.

Spicy Fish Soup (매운탕) - Bit of a tricky one to eat as there are often a lot of bones, fins and other fish parts in it, but it is spicy, wholesome and delicious.  I remember once having it after I finished running a marathon, and although I was sceptical that a spicy, fishy soup was the best thing I could be eating straight after running all that way, once I had some I felt almost immediately rejuvenated.

Heavily Fermented Bean Soup (춘국장) - the stronger, fuller-flavoured elder brother of 된장찌깨
(doenjang soup) is an aquired taste as it has a strange flavour and intense odour.  As always very good for you.

Bone Soup (설렁탕) - There are a few varieties of bone soup, but I am picking the one I know best and like best, 설렁탕 (Solongtang).  This is a bone soup with sliced beef, served with rice, salt, and radish kimchi, which is usually mixed all together.  If I can recommend one soup to really make you feel strong and healthy it would be this one.  It often makes me feel like a new man after eating it and this feeling is something I really like a lot of Korean dishes for.  They don't just fill your stomach and taste good, but they make you feel great as well.

Motorway Service Station Food

When you first come to Korea, it might just be that you need to go on a fairly long bus journey to get to your destination.  On the way you will stop at a service station, and besides the sit-down food you can eat there serving the usual fare, you will find other food that is quite specific to motorway service stations.  Not the healthiest usually, but will temporarily fill a hole in your stomach.

Fish Cake on a Stick - And other stuff on a stick with mustard and ketchup.  It is Korea's answer for hot dogs, which they also serve at service stations.  My personal favourite is a Doek Dog, which is crispy Korean rice cake on the outside and a frankfurter in the middle.

Walnut Cake (호두 과자) - my favourite long-journey snack food.  Best when it is warm, but be careful not to burn your tongue on the red bean paste inside.  Crispy on the outside with a walnut also, they are lovely and sweet without being grossly unhealthy.

Roast Potatoes - I was slightly surprised by this as I thought Korea wasn't a particularly potato liking country.  They sell mini roast potatoes at many stops and most Korean people I have ever seen eating them put so much salt on them, it is almost unbelievable.

Pumpkin Candy (엿) - Come in small plastic boxes and cost about a couple of dollars.  It doesn't look that great value as it seems there is not much there.  However, they are quite chewy and surprisingly long-lasting.  Quite subtlely sweet and satisfying to chew on, with quite a unique texture and flavour, they can end-up being quite addictive.

There are many other foods that you can buy at these stops, which seems to be the same at every one, including:

Corn on the cob
Takoyaki (Japanese snack, and another favourite little snack of mine)
Deli Manjoo (sort of vanilla cream in a soft batter)
Whole fried squid
Sweet potato fries
Sandwiches (Korean style)

Takoyaki: Photo by Keith Pomakis on 2004-09-18.

Side Dishes

There are almost certainly too many to name, as kimchi alone has about 200 different varieties.  An American friend of mine once said Korea was, "the land of side dishes no one wants to eat", and I used to agree with him, but as my Korean food appetite has matured and grown, the side dishes have also come into their own.  Many side dishes are vegetables, fish or egg served in a tasty sauce to make them more palatable.  When my wife visited England with me she remarked about how blandly we cooked vegetables, often boiled without a sauce, Koreans rarely do this and there can also be an incredible range of different side dishes with different meals.

I think it is fair to say I could go on and on about Korean food.  When I wonder around the city, I can see so many foods that I haven't yet tried, so I still have a way to go yet on sampling everything Korea has to offer in the food department and this makes me even more puzzled when people say it lacks variety.  There is no way I could even come close to doing the same two-part post on delicious English food. 

Perhaps there is a reason, though, why Western people say Korean food lacks variety; maybe we Westerners indulge ourselves in other culture's food much more often than Koreans do.  Sure, Koreans like their Western food, Japanese food, and sometimes Chinese food, but they are often Koreanised slightly and they eat them far less often than Korean food.  Most Koreans I know really love their own food, I can't say the same for English people.  Yes, we love a good roast dinner, but we also love an Indian or Thai curry, a take-away Chinese, Mexican food, Italian food, etc.  We eat other culture's foods far more often, in my experience, than Koreans do and I think this goes for most people from Western countries.  This rings so true in England that apparently the Chicken Tikka Masala is the nation's favourite food and is now even considered an English dish.

So when you consider that most of the time in Korea, Koreans that you are with are eating almost solely Korean food and they enjoy the pleasure of introducing you to it, perhaps then you might be able to see that it is not devoid of variety at all. 

Personally, I eat a Pizza about once every 3 weeks and the rest of the time I eat Korean food.  I never get bored, I feel great, energetic, and I am almost certainly much healthier for it.  My favourite food in the world, I always miss Korean food badly when I leave Korea.