Making every bite count

28 February 2007

has it really been two years?

Life passes quickly, more so each year.
Two years ago, I was embarking on the journey of my lifetime. A year in Korea. I remember crying until I couldn't catch my breath when I left my mom at the gate. 365 days without her? How would I do it? It ended up being about 400 days sans Maman. I returned home a different person, a year older, sure, but a bit less innocent, a bit more jaded, a bit less idealistic. It wasn't Korea that changed me; it was my life choices.
That year was simutaneously the best and worst of my life. Korea is so important to me, and it was there that I learned a lot about myself... what I wanted, who I was, am and will be. I made great friends, taught intelligent children and, of course, ate delicious food.
Everything in those first few days was magical, special, unique. Soon, the grocery story would become just another errand in my daily life, but that first visit was so exciting!
Saturday, February 26, 2005 2:59 p.m.
I survived my first two trips to stores. Last night, after working a 10-hour day, stores were closed and I didn’t have the energy to try a restaurant so I was prepared to starve until morning or face another Luna bar for a meal. (Before leaving I bought a couple of dozen Luna bars, etc. for breakfast here. Thankfully, because that and coffee was the only food I had in my apartment yesterday morning. )In the few blocks after the school there are restaurants and businesses, but then it’s pretty much just apartment buildings for a solid 10 minutes. Finally I found a 7/11-type place and picked up some food. It’s strange picking out food without knowing exactly what it is. I bought some milk thinking it was soymilk. It was in a black and white and green container, just like the soymilk (duyu) I was used to seeing. Oops. I found some mushroom soup in the refrigerated section. I heated it on the stove -- no microwave -- and ate it for breakfast. It was heavenly! Maybe it’s because it was the first warm food I’d had in a day and a half. I also bought this triangular sushi with spicy tuna filling (though at the time I didn’t know what was inside.) called maeun chamchi samgakgimbap. I read about it in the guidebook. Only sold in convenience stores, it is a triangle of rice with a filling of beef (so gogi), tuna (chamchi) or chicken (dalk gogi) or even kimchi. It’s covered in dried seaweed (kim), which inevitably comes off when you unwrap the treat. I also saw some today in the grocery store, Carrefour. Seeing that familiar sign made me feel at home right away. (Carrefour is a French brand. The word means crossroads in French.) Grocery store is a bit of an understatement; it’s more like a mall. There are small boutiques, a beauty salon, a pet supply shop, restaurants – including KFC, Baskin Robbins and Burger King – and a section that has just about everything, like a Wal-mart. An accessories kiosk caught my eye. The woman and I talked a bit and I succumbed to the lure of the shiny objects. I bought a stick for my hair, one that can be used to secure a twist or bun. I paid 12,000 for it, which I suppose was worth it for the conversation. I walked around a bit before choosing my groceries and deliberately only chose a basket instead of a cart. I wanted everything, but knew I had to carry it a block home. There was a huge produce section, a sushi bar, with self-serve, prepackaged sushi pieces, various meat counters, counters with countless varieties of kimchi, namul (side dishes), tofu (dubu), seaweed (gim) and rice (bap/ssal). There was a large seafood section boasting giant blue crabs (gae)with legs spread two feet wide, for 33,000 a pound. Vendors crowded every aisle with samples of meats (gogi), kimchi and spicy (maeun) vegetables (yachae). There were coolers with meat for grilling pulgogi and galbi. Another case contained beef (so gogi) and vegetables (yachae) already seasoned and ready to be cooked. For 31,872, I bought:a case of soymilk (duyu) (it was buy one, get one free, so I had to carry two heavy cases of single-serve nuyu home!) a six-pack of diet Coke (actually Coca light, and it was 2,500 for it! I likely will not drink much of it here because it’s costly. I just wanted to buy it.) seven pieces of sushi (600 to 800 each, what a steal!) a platter of what I think is marinated tofu. It’s yummy. I’ve had it before and love it! It comes with sliced onion (yangpah) and peppers (gochu). Sugar cubes for coffee (I plan to start inviting my friends over for espresso. I love my little moka maker!) Mayonnaise (not sure why, but there was a 100 coupon!) A green tea (nok cha) that I saw on the register aisle for 50. It was in this heated cooler-looking cabinet. It was really neat! Rice. A bottle of Hite beer (mekju). An Asian pear (bae uh) (they are quite large, the size of a grapefruit, and orangeish-tan in color!)A block of tofu (dubu), which I plan to fry up for lunch tomorrow, along with some spicy soy sauce. Mmm! It’s pretty fresh. Yum!I think that was it. I saw some cheese, but completely bypassed it. It will be a treat here, not a dietary staple. I am going to eat only Korean food for the first three months, if possible. Another method that will keep me from overeating and over shopping: My freezer isn’t working. I can’t read the dials. They’re far beyond my limited vocabulary.I still feel so tired. I want to go to bed early each night, but I can’t sleep through the night. I wake after a few hours and wake feeling restless. My body doesn’t know what’s going on. For the first time in my life, I am constipated. I am happy here so far, but I just don’t have much energy. It’s a nice change to have so much free time. I know work will take up most of my time, but that’s all I have. I still have to write home to tell people that I have arrived, plus I have to send postcards. That can wait. For now, I want to rest. But first I need to go back to Carrefour. I want a curling iron, a sponge, a hairbrush and some other things. Oy, I am tired. I expected to go to the other side of the city today to explore, but I just don’t have the energy. Every time I don’t feel energetic, I get scared that I am falling into a depression. I don’t think that’s the case here; I think the jetlag is still wearing off. It’s to be expected that it will take a while to catch up. I will worry about running errands and settling in next week. No rush. I am here for a year, and I need to be well-rested for work on Monday. It’s my first day of teaching. Yesterday’s experience requires far too much energy to describe right now. Back to Carrefour.

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