Thursday, February 26, 2015

Γεια σας from Greece!

Γεια σας from the Hellenic Republic, also known by most of the World as Greece!
The View on the first night from my hotel!

            I have been in this beautiful country for over a month and I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by! Since being in Greece I have explored Athens, I visited the Oracle at Delphi, tried my hand at Greek cooking, met some stray dogs, learned the Greek alphabet, and flew to Barcelona Spain.
There are stray dogs everywhere! I am in love!!!

Since arriving in the land of over 3000 islands the days have been a whirl wind of exploring one of the most unique countries in the world. AIFS (the American Institution for Foreign Study) and DEREE (short hand for The American College of Greece that no one knows the meaning of) started out the Study Abroad program by immediately immersing all of the students in Athens and the History of Greece. During the first weekend in Greece the Study Abroad Students were taken on a walking tour of Athens. We were able to walk through the old neighborhoods that surround the base of the Acropolis and see the small homes that made up the area. We were then treated to a local delicacy known as Souvlaki. Souvlaki is what most of the world knows as Gyros, however in Greece “Gyro” is the meat that spins around an open flame that is shaved and then put into the pita. This meat is than accompanied by a sauce either tzatziki or another sauce depending on the meat, then there is tomatoes, onions, sometimes lettuce, and always fried potatoes. 

During the Greek Cooking class held in the Residence Halls we learned how to make ΝΤΑΚΟΣ (dakos) and TZATZIKI two typical Greek foods. The NTAKOΣ is pictured above.

I have been asked by a lot of people how the current situation in Greece is and I would like to address that question here as well. Before I say anything I should point out that I have not be reading any information on the situation from any news sources American or Greek. This is because I want to get a feel of how the Greek people are reacting to the New Leftist government elected. So all of the opinions stated are from my observation by talking to locals and what I have learned in my Modern Greece a Troubled History Class if there is false information stated I apologize... To begin I would like to talk about the feeling surrounding the elections. The Sunday of elections two of my roommates and I traveled to downtown Athens, in the shadow of the Acropolis lay Monastiraki one of the busiest squares in Athens. On this warm Sunday afternoon the streets of Athens were deserted except for hundreds of news cameras that were interviewing the few locals that dared to wander to narrow streets. The people of Greece had scattered to their neighborhoods or cities of their birth to cast their crucial vote and Athens looked like a deserted city that tourists had no idea was no longer functioning. The days following the election results I went back downtown with Alice who is the AIFS representative that is an asset to have in Athens and she mentioned how different the Greeks felt now that their government was supporting the views of the people. Before the election there were cops stationed outside all of the government buildings and the people felt like they were in a police state, since the elections there are cops that just sit on the main roads watching cars drive by because they have nothing to do. The people are hopeful for the new government and the metaphorical light that has shown itself, instead of protesting against their government the people have gathered in support of the government standing up to the European Union. I do not know what lays ahead for Greece but I completely support the views of the citizens, a government should represent what is best for the people and what the people want. Even if the government may not stand in favor of what more powerful countries believe.
Changing pace completely I want to talk about visiting the Oracle of Delphi. 
The story goes that two fishermen were visited one night by a dolphin (delphin) that could talk...after realizing that this wasn’t a normal dolphin (shocker) they followed it to the mountain side. The area Mount Parnassus was said to be the center of the world at the time (Zeus let two eagles go on both sides of the globe and where they landed was where Delphi was) and actually according to scientists the location of Delphi was in fact the center of the known world at the time it was established. The two fishermen worried about how they would survive in the mountains since they were fisherman that were accustomed to the sea and the dolphin told them not to worry because soon people would be bringing them gifts that would more than make up for the lack of fishing...
flash forward and the Oracle at Delphi became the most important Oracle in Ancient Greece...even Alexander the Great consulted the Oracle before going out on his famous conquests...however when he went, the gas that caused hallucinations in the priestesses was too strong so the priestess refused to see him, not taking no for an answer he grabbed her hair and she said “You cannot lose,” satisfied with that answer he left. It is easy to see why people of Ancient Greece would travel to Delphi to consult the Oracle not only is it beautiful, but standing on the mountain side and imagining what the ruins looked like covered in gold is thought provoking and the idea of how important the area was for the Ancient Greeks draws up stories from all over the Ancient World. 

In one of the walls there are inscriptions written by people that were once slaves, but were freed. The path leading up to the temple of Apollo is steep and the fountain where the people had to wash themselves before entering the sacred land is intriguing. If only the ruins could talk.

A couple of weeks after visiting Delphi the AIFS Group was taken on a tour of the Acropolis and Parthenon. I cannot begin to explain the feeling of walking on top of the Acropolis, the first area inhabited in modern day Athens. 
The great people that walked on the path, saw the view, and built the Parthenon that even in shambles is more beautiful than any modern day monuments. No words will ever begin to describe the beauty found in Athens. So I will post some pictures that will do this Ancient City more justice.

Finally, since arriving in Greece I travelled to Barcelona, Spain. While in Barcelona I attended a Barça game and visited Montserrat. Pictures are below. If you enjoyed these pictures you can stay up to date on all of the pictures I post of Greece via my Instagram @KitKatLage!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kimchi Making Festival (Nov. 15, 2014)

I would say that out of the many experiences I had here in Korea, learning how to make kimchi was one of the most memorable things I’ve done. This allowed me to learn more about Korean culture as well as how much effort it takes to prepare this unique food of Korea. The kimchi making experience I went on consisted of waking up early (around 9am), leaving Sinchang around 10:30am for Shinjung Lake Park, and making kimchi from 11:30am to 3:30pm. Particularly with this kimchi experience, it wasn’t just a lesson on making kimchi, it was also a festival to help for a good cause. The purpose of this kimchi festival was to produce as many boxes of kimchi that of which would be delivered to families in need during the winter. An interesting thing I learned was that it’s common to make kimchi during the wintertime. As far as the process of making kimchi, there was a lot of labor involved which definitely made me understand the hard work that needs to be put in to create such a wonderful side dish.

We love making kimchi!
When first arriving at the festival, there were many tents set up, camera crews everywhere, and everyone getting “suited up” to make kimchi. Prior to making kimchi, I knew that we had to suit up, but then I didn’t realize that there were so many things to put on. It was like a suit of armor. From hand gloves, arm gloves, aprons, to facemasks, I was surprised to see how much preparation goes in to the kimchi making process. Luckily, when it came to the actual production process, the sauce/base to make kimchi was already made. From there, we just needed to spread the base on the cabbages (that were previously brined in salt water). While making kimchi, the cabbages were like “pages” in a book. We would flip through each of the cabbage leaves and then spread the base (with generous amounts) leaf by leaf. This process went on for the next 4 hours, leaving only a 15-minute break.

At that time, the weather was a bit chilly especially during the morning hours. While making kimchi, my hands felt really cold because of the cold moisture from the cabbages and sauce/base. Although it was a chilly day, making the kimchi gave me a workout, which eventually increased my body temperature. While making kimchi, I really enjoyed the fact that we all worked together effectively, like an assembly line. Many of the Korean students that our group went with taught us how the process was. We danced, sang songs, which created a fun and memorable experience for all of us. From then on, we all did our part in producing a large amount of kimchi that would help so many Korean families in need.

Some of many boxes of kimchi that were made during the festival

An incredible weekend in Busan

Our journey began by taking a subway from Sinchang (where our university was located) to Asan Station. Once we got to Asan Station, we took the KTX (Korea’s bullet train) all the way to Busan. Let me tell you, it was surprising how fast that train was. After about a 2.5 hour commute, we finally arrived at Busan Station. Once we made it, Joon-young’s mother had been excitingly waiting for us. It was about 9pm and both Joon-young and I were a bit exhausted, but it didn’t stop us from exploring around his neighborhood. I was able to see his elementary and high school, as well as chill at a few parks he went to often as a high school student.

During my first month in Korea, I had already made friends with a lot of the Korean students. Among many of the friends I made while studying at Soonchunhyang University, there was one in particular who was from Busan.  His name was Joon-young. Having known him for just a couple weeks, he happily invited me to visit his home and family.

From there, we both set off on our weekend adventure to Busan. Since it we had a long weekend ahead of us, we made sure to explore as many things as we could. As a foreigner, I found it very exciting to be traveling around Korea, yet alone being able to visit my friend’s hometown.

Bottom of Busan Tower
Day 1

After touring Joon-young’s neighborhood, we returned to his home where I met his mom, dad, and older brother. During my stay in their home, I felt so welcomed by the hospitality that Joon-young’s family provided me. Even though it was my first experience staying with a Korean family, they made it pretty comfortable for me. What I enjoyed was how much food was prepared. There’s nothing better than home-cooked meals. I was able to get a taste of authentic Korean food in a Korean home. From different types of kimchi to an array of soups and other dishes, they made sure that I ate well, which I had no problem with.

Busan International Film Festival
Day 2

After taking a rest after our journey to Busan, Joon-young and I headed out to Haeundae Beach the next morning. With just a 20-minute walk from his home, Haeundae had already been packed with people. I have to say, it was pretty interesting to see a beach outside of Hawaii. Although the waters weren’t as blue as Hawaii’s beaches, I still enjoyed walking along the sands of Korea.

While at Haeundae, we noticed that the annual Busan International Film Festival was being held. We were lucky enough to see so many interesting types of films that were specifically produced in Korea.

After our stop at Haeundae, Joon-young’s family picked us up and we drove all the way to Daegu for his grandmother’s birthday. At the restaurant we went to, I was introduced to a lot of his family. From aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it, I got to meet his family tree.

During the dinner, the table was laid out with so much food. By now, I’ve taken in the fact that Koreans can eat, and I mean eat WELL! There’s so many words to describe how delicious the food was. After talking with many of Joon-young’s family members, I was requested to sing “Happy Birthday” for his hal-mo-nee (or grandma, 할머니). I truly felt welcomed by his family.  After the restaurant, we all went to noraebang (karaoke) and ended the night walking around Daegu Park.

Final Day

During our last full-day in Busan, Joon-young and I traveled to many parts of Busan, starting off with Jalgachi Fish Market. There were so many vendors everywhere, fish auctions taking place, and a wide assortment of fish. I was amazed at how busy this market was, but then again, it’s one of Korea’s famous fish markets.

One interesting I tried, and is also one of Korea’s delicacies, is live octopus. Personally, I grew up eating octopus in Hawaii, but I haven’t tried it live. Joon-young insisted I try, and as adventurous as I am, I went for it. I would have to say, it wasn’t as bad. Although the tentacles got stuck to my teeth, I enjoyed every bite of it. I left the fish market pretty full.

Next, we went to Busan Tower to check out a 360 degree view of the beautiful city. It was interesting to see how colorful many of the building were. It was like a crayon box. In addition to the buildings, there was an ocean view which made me feel like I was back in Hawaii.

After Busan Tower, we headed out to another traditional market which was near Jalgachi. At this particular market, we went on a food venture. This time, it was all about the street food. What Busan is known for is their hotteok. It’s a delicious pancake dessert stuffed with sugar and peanuts. For just 1,000 won ($1), it was definitely worth waiting in line for.

Throughout the afternoon, we explored the market trying many types of street foods such as mandoo, tteokkbokki (rice cake), fishcake, and soondae (Korean blood sausage). By the end of our day, we were pretty full.

As our weekend trip started coming to a close, I stopped to realize how amazing these past few days has been. From sightseeing all over Busan, visiting so many traditional markets, and trying new foods, this is probably one of the highlights of my time in Korea. After my trip to Busan, it made me want to visit there again. Significantly, this experience helped me learn more about my friend, his family, and the Korean culture.