Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Seollal Holidays: Time to Wander Around the Frozen Seoul

I just learned that it's a one-week off for everyone during the Seollal holidays. Chin-cha? 


Seollal is the Korean celebration of the lunar new year, when everyone goes home to the provinces to join families and relatives, and to pay respects to their ancestors. And during this kind of long holidays, the highways leading to the provinces are always jammed with Kia's and Hyundai's, which means joining the exodus for some sightseeing outside Seoul is not a good idea, unless your idea of vacation is memorizing car plate numbers on the highway while your bladder is bloating.

And for me, it's practically nine days straight with nothing else to do but sleep, eat and being merry at home watching movie re-runs on TV during these winter days of slippery sidewalks and snowed roads. 

So, what to do?

Well, flying out of Korea is not an option either. With half a million people travelling abroad, plane fares are not that vacation-worthy, too.

With all the time on my hands (and camera) next week, I will try to scour the City for unfamiliar corners, views and tastes. 

I just hope the temperatures won't be that low. Otherwise, my legs (and my camera batteries) will freeze as I wander around the frozen Seoul.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Dashing Through The Snow....

Christmas is over but singing that line from "Jingle Bells" is still okay when there's a lot of snow in the city!
My Sunday schedule yesterday was just to go to Itaewon to have brunch with a friend, then coffee, go home, then sleep, and sleep some more. In this sub-zero weather, who wants to spend the whole day outdoors?

So, I met up with a friend at a brunch place where we helped ourselves with calories and cholesterol, which were labelled as omelettes, bacons and sausages on the menu. And while we were busy with the task, we noticed it start to trickle outside. The snow. So, we immediately cleaned our plates and decided to move to a cafe. 

And as we navigated Itaewon's main street, flurries started to fall. And half an hour later, as we chatted at the cafe watching over the main intersection, those cotton-light and cotton-like fluffs falling from the skies got thicker, a snowy scene which looked amusing from where we sat, but definitely causing some annoyance on the people below, trying to cover themselves from the icy onslaught.
And just minutes later, the sidewalks became white, and the roads a little wet from the melted snow.
As we were enjoying our hot cups of Colombian coffee, entertaining ourselves with the view, the ajussis down the street started to shovel off the snow clearing their side of the sidewalk so as not to disrupt their business, definitely not part of the day's original routine.
We then realized that the snow fall wasn't getting funny and amusing anymore. So we decided to call it a weekend, and hurried home not wanting to be trapped in the thick snow and slippery sidewalks.
And when I finally reached Hannam-dong, that line from the Christmas jingle rang again in my mind as I made my way through the neighborhood, carefully treading, one step at a time, the whitened path now all covered with fresh slush.

"Dashing through the snow...."

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Airport Railroad: The Shortest Distance Between Incheon Airport and Seoul Station

If the Greek mathematician Euclid said that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, I say: the shortest distance between the Incheon International 
Airport and the Seoul Station is...the Korail Airport Railroad! Ha-ha-ha!

After reading about the opening of the new express train of the Korail Airport Railroad in the news while I was having my vacacion grande in the Philippines, I thought of taking it when I finally fly back to the freezing temperatures of Seoul.

And I did!
So, when I finally arrived in South Korea (and after being welcomed by the Korean Immigration, Customs and the winter weather), I dragged my luggage and my weary legs from the arrival area down to B1 of the Incheon International, and followed the directions to the express train terminal while adjusting to the sub-zero temperatures along the way.
Not knowing how to buy a train ticket, I asked a Korail lady attendant to assist this tired traveller through the ticket machine, which gobbled up my 13,300 Korean won and spat out a ticket in return!
Finally holding the prized ticket, I passed through the turnstile, went down through the escalator, which temporarily turned into a conveyor belt with my heavy luggage (half of which contained hopia and the other half dried mangoes), and on to the platform.
Downstairs, another lady assistant welcomed an empty train!  The car's all mine! Ha-ha-ha!
Too bad, it was already dark when I planed in. I would have enjoyed the sceneries along the way. Instead, I just amused myself with the city lights, silhouettes of buildings and bridges, and my smart phone (the train has wi-fi!).
I will definitely ride this express train again as the other alternative, the airport limousine bus, is sometimes bumpy and gets stuck in the traffic. And if that doesn't annoy you, the irritating comedy programs on the bus TV will. Ha-ha-ha!
Well, the ride was smooth and non-stop. 

And thanks to Korail, the distance between two points took only... 43 minutes!
After getting off at the Seoul Station, I then took two elevators out of the building, dragging my heavy luggage  for the last time until I heard myself screaming...

"Ajussi! Tekshi!"

Of Korean Boy Bands and Their Pinoy Fans

I can't even remember the names of all these Korean boy and girl bands. They're too many!
From the very popular Super Junior, SHINee, Wonder Girls and Girls Generation, to Kara, 2Ne1, Miss A, and of course, the clock-named, 2AM and 2PM. I couldn't name all of them. As I said, they're too many. Ha-ha-ha!
And I guess, I can't name all their Pinoy fans (in thousands or millions?) as well!  So, I will just name two. 
Anna and Arianne.

Both in their teens and are in high school, Anna swoons over SHINee, while Arianne is in love with Super Junior. But even with their craze over the Korean boy bands, they still consider their studies as priority. (Their moms make sure of that!) Both girls are doing good at school. 
And their prize for being studious Korean boy band fans? Posters and music CDs of their favorite bands! Flown in direct from Seoul!
I was happy to reward them for their high grades. While these very young fans go ga-ga over these K-pop bands, they should always remember that school comes first. 
(Photo of Anna hiding behind her SHINee posters)

And while Anna and Arianne enjoy the big posters hanging on their bedroom walls, they also make sure homework is done before playing K-pop music.

These K-pop bands come and go. The hype and the craze will die down someday, and those SHINee and Super Junior posters will come off from the walls. So, their fans, like Anna and Arianne, should always be smart to always remember that education remains as priority. That, I'm a fan of. 

Thursday, 20 January 2011

A Pinoy in Manila: The Walled City of Intramuros!

It was built in 1571 by the Spaniards.  A city within walls, intra-muros, it is the oldest district in Manila. It expanded and flourished with houses, imposing churches, offices and schools during the Spanish era, destroyed by the Japanese army and American bombs during World War II, restored by Imelda Marcos in the 1980s, and now enjoyed and visited by local and international tourists (like me) all year round.

 And on this quiet afternoon, I roam Intramuros, imagining it was still the Spanish period when only people of Spanish descent were allowed to live within the walls, which means I may be literally dragged out of Intramuros by the guardia civil (civil guards) by nightfall. Ha-ha-ha! Or perhaps, if I could trick them with my Spanish name and my almost-forgotten EspaƱol (courtesy of Instituto Cervantes), I may be allowed to stay for the night! 

 And as I now walk around Fort Santiago, where Jose Rizal spent his last days, I trace his final steps towards his execution at Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park), on the morning of December 30, 1896, which brought delight and relief to the corrupt Spanish friars whom he pissed with his writings. And around the Fort, I see these small gardens, where Spanish ladies, peninsulares and mestizas, probably, enjoy late afternoon walks with their parasols and the latest society gossip. Ha-ha-ha!
 And at that time, the Roman Catholic church was more influential and powerful than the Spanish governor. With these friars shouting their sermons from the pulpits every Sunday, they were revered and feared, as they successfully duped everyone that whoever does not follow what they preach is surely going to infierno, a Spanish word for ‘hell’, an idea which didn’t exist among the natives before the Spaniards came. (Thanks, Carlos, for this info!). That’s why these corrupt friars got away with almost anything. Classic fear mongering, I’d say.
 And speaking of churches, the Manila Cathedral and the San Agustin Church in Intramuros are perhaps the most popular churches for weddings. A couple would need to reserve a year before their wedding date just to make sure they have a slot! Well, keeping the reservation for a year is easy; but I wonder if one of them changes his or her mind?  Can he or she just get married to a new partner using the same reservation? Ha-ha-ha!
So, on this cool afternoon in Intramuros, I re-discover a part of Manila’s rich Spanish history riding a calesa, a horse-drawn carriage, meandering around the calles (streets) once roamed by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the first Spanish governor-general, who perhaps suggested to his big boss, King Philip II of Spain (after whom the Philippines was named), to build the settlement where it is now, surrounded by high walls and moats which protected it from angry natives as well as from Chinese, Japanese, British and Dutch raiders over the centuries.
I think Intramuros is best enjoyed during day time, when one can explore the place, the architecture, the atmosphere, and the shops while they're open. I don't recommend that one should roam the place at night, lest you want to encounter Spanish-speaking ghosts and guardia civil who will drag you out of the place shouting, Fuera de aqui! I'm talking about other human forms with not-so-good intentions. (You know what I mean). 

This place is part of my history, a part of my being Filipino. 


Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Pinoy in Manila: Halo-Halo!

During summer in the Philippines, halo-halo is the most popular snack to cool off! To 'halo' means to mix, so 'halo-halo' means mix-mix! 

This icy cold snack consists of, well, ice shavings with evaporated milk and drowned with loads of caramelized jackfruit, banana, candied purple yam, red beans, tapioca, gelatin, nata de coco, pinipig (ground dried rice), cooked sweet potato, chickpeas, sweet corn, coconut strips and a lot more, depending on the available local ingredients. And a halo-halo crowned with ice cream is usually called 'espesyal', and it is available all year round! 

These are some of the halo-halo ingredients.
But today, as I wandered around the Makati Commercial Center, I stumbled into a food court and saw a halo-halo joint and ordered a cup!
This joint's halo-halo cup is just enough for me. I didn't have the intention of pigging out on my afternoon snack as I still have a big dinner to follow. Sweetened banana and sweetened macapuno (a type of coconut) were buried under ice shavings topped with leche flan.  Although this cup didn't have much of the traditional  ingredients, it was still flavorful and refreshing, considering I have been walking around the mall the  whole afternoon!
Well, the halo-halo of Razon's of Guagua kept me company on my table for about ten minutes, and few more in my stomach! Ha-ha-ha!  So, if you, too, are in Manila and hungry for a refreshment, do look for this joint. 

Halo-halo. Mix-mix!

A Pinoy At Home: Fresh Mangoes and Kalamay-Hati!

Every time I fly back to Seoul, I usually bring 'dried mangoes' as presents to my Korean friends. Too bad, I could not bring in fresh mangoes, lest I want to be held up at the Incheon International Airport by the Korean Customs, as fresh produce is not allowed into Korea. But if you want to enjoy a fresh mango, it would cost you about KRW3,000 at a supermarket or at the Pinoy market at Hyehwa-dong in Seoul. 

But today, I got my fresh mangoes at home. Yellow, ripe, juicy and sweet -- my tropical fruit of choice! Ha-ha-ha!  

Sliced and ready to be enjoyed, the fresh mangoes sit there on my table, making me drool in anticipation of the moment when I actually lift my spoon to scoop its juicy pulp. Yummy!
And today, paired with my fresh mangoes, is a local delicacy 'kalamay hati', made of ground sticky rice mixed with sugar and coconut milk cooked to a gummy form, just sweet enough to be twirled in your mouth and is a snack on its own. Thanks to my mom who got it for me!
I will be back to Seoul soon, and may miss these sentimental favorites. So, I'm writing about them now, so in case I crave for them, I have a page where I can slice my mangoes and take a bite of my kalamat-hati. Ha-ha-ha!