11 November 2011


As you can see, the chocolate covered baguette really does exist, after all! The boy who gave me the baguette actually spends a great deal of his time driving me crazy on a regular basis, so he somewhat redeemed himself today. After posing for this photo, I shared the baguette with my co-workers. It was kind of messy to eat, but absolutely delicious!

I have to admit, I let the kids' excitement rub off on me for this silly holiday. I got a little carried away, even invented a Pepero Day dance, which the kids enjoyed tremendously. I was totally spoiled by them today. Check out all the goodies that I got! It was fun and I'm a little sad that it's over.

09 November 2011

Pepero Day?

While my friends and family in the UK and my homeland of Canada, along with all commonwealth countries will be donning poppies and observing a moment of silence to honour the members of our armed forces who have died in the line of duty since World War I, I will be stuck in The Twilight Zone that is South Korea and eating chocolate covered biscuits. Why? Because in South Korea, November 11th is Pepero Day. What in the world is Pepero Day? Allow me to explain...

Pepero is a long, stick shaped biscuit that would be rather bland (think breadstick) if it weren't dipped in chocolate. They are manufactured by Lotte, which is a Japanese/South Korean conglomerate (established in 1948 in Tokyo by Japanese-educated, Korean businessman Shin Kyuk-Ho) and are actually a direct rip-off of the Japanese snack, Pocky, manufactured by Glico. Pocky was invented in 1966, while Pepero didn't make its appearance until 1983. The "holiday" however, didn't begin until 1994. Well, you can call it a holiday, but I prefer to call it a clever marketing strategy, as Lotte usually does about 55% of their Pepero business in November every year. According to one story, Pepero Day was started in 1994 by students at a girls middle school in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks as gifts to wish one another to grow "as tall and slender as a Pepero," but I find that story highly suspicious, don't you? Why November 11th? The date 11/11 is said to resemble five Pepero sticks. Does this mean that Lotte will see even more sales this year on 11/11/11?

Something else you should know is that over time, this holiday has evolved into a day that is meant for lovers, making it similar to Valentine's Day, which is kind of annoying really, because they do celebrate Valentine's Day in South Korea and, like in Japan, only women are meant to give men chocolate on February 14th. Men are expected to return the favour a month later, on March 14th, otherwise known as White Day (celebrated in both South Korea and Japan) and if that wasn't enough, on April 14th South Koreans have a pity-fest called Black Day, reserved for all those who did not receive chocolate on either Valentine's Day or White Day. Are you confused yet? Welcome to my world.

Now, the good news (or bad news if you're on a diet) is that if you're an English teacher in South Korea, chances are you will be receiving a whole lot of Pepero on Pepero Day, regardless of your relationship status. Like in North America on Valentine's Day, children are encouraged to offer gifts to all of their classmates and usually to their teachers too. It's only November 9th and I've already received one gift of Chocolate Rondeletti (a gourmet version of Pepero from a South Korean bakery chain called Paris Baguette) from one of my students. I've also heard that Paris Baguette sell actual baguettes dipped in chocolate on this holiday, but that may just be a rumour.

I find it rather fascinating that a country that has been plagued by war more than most celebrates such a lighthearted and contrived holiday on the very same day that Remembrance Day (not to mention Veterans Day in the US and Armistice Day in France, Belgium & New Zealand, all commemorating the end of World War I) is observed. It just goes to show you that, despite the hardships they have endured, Koreans certainly have a sense of fun. My students are very excited about Pepero Day and they freaked right out when I pointed out that this year is 11/11/11. I will be sure to post a photo of all Pepero that comes my way, although I am hoping that they won't overdo it. I am, after all, trying to watch what I eat...

Pepero Day display in the shopping area near Sungshin Women's University

07 November 2011

The Evil Weevil

It's official. I am totally grossed out! Last night, I decided to make myself a nice Thai curry. To my surprise, when I opened the bag of Jasmine rice I had purchased at the Foreign Food Market in Itaewon, I came face to face with a familiar vermin: the weevil. I once had an encounter with these pantry pests years ago, back home in Canada. They had infested some flour and had made their way into at least half of the other grain products in my pantry. It was a nasty affair that ended up being both very time consuming and expensive.

Luckily, because I haven't been here for very long and I don't do as much cooking at home in Korea as I do in Canada, it didn't take me that long to get rid of (hopefully, they're gone) these pests. I emptied out my pantry. I painstakingly checked every possible food product that could have been contaminated. Only the rice and a packet of sliced almonds had been infested. I cleaned the pantry with sudsy water. I let it dry. I put everything back in. Now, I will hope for the best.

When it comes to rice, I like variety. I get bored with Korean rice (essentially the same as Japanese "sticky rice") so I always go to the Foreign Food Market to make sure I'm stocked up on Jasmine or Basmati, even though it's ridiculously overpriced. Now, I'm so freaked out that I'm not sure that I ever want to go back to that place! The fact that the only other food item in my pantry where I found a weevil was the packet of sliced almonds also purchased there has totally put me off.

I know that I'm going to be paranoid about this for a while. It doesn't help that I did some research and found out that we have all eaten weevils, in one form or another, at some stage in our lives...

Quoted from How to Get Rid of Weevils
"I am both pleased and honored to be the one to tell you that yes, you have eaten weevils. I know it's a disgusting thought, but there's really nothing to be done about it. Most people are never even aware that it has happened. It might have simply been their eggs. It could, however, have been little bits of exoskeleton, maybe a leg or two, or possibly even the entire nasty weevil . . . or at least its larvae. With something as common as weevils, it's pretty much unavoidable. They can be found in nearly any prepackaged food you buy that contains any sort of grain. I'm talkin' cookies, crackers, biscuits, cake mixes, pastas, breakfast cereals, anything. This is due to the fact that weevils lay their eggs in, you guessed it, grains."

So, are you grossed out yet? Good, I'm not alone.  Incidentally, I also learned that Bay Leaves are a natural weevil deterrent. I have now spread Bay Leaves throughout my pantry. Wish me luck...

06 November 2011

The Little Things

The long work hours, the daily commute on public transportation so crowded you have to experience it to believe it, the constant state of perplexity caused by the simple fact that you cannot read, speak, or understand the language, the sense of isolation that comes with living so very far away from family and friends. These are some of the reasons why living in Seoul can be stressful.

Thankfully, I am lucky enough to work with a great team of teachers who help keep me sane. The fact that I am able to commiserate with them is something that was gravely lacking at my last job in Seoul. Moreover, I am inspired by my students every day. Just knowing that I've had an impact, however small, on the lives of these children, makes it all worthwhile. When Se-Eun gave me an unexpected rose the other day, I thought to myself, "This is why I'm here."

I also find myself taking refuge in the little things.The truth is, despite the stress that comes from living in a sprawling metropolis and constantly feeling lost in translation, there are also a lot of little things that I like about living in Seoul. One of those things is shopping! I went shopping near Sungshin Women's University after work on Saturday and I found these very cute earrings. They may not be extravagant or expensive, but this made me happy. Honestly, it doesn't take much...

02 November 2011

Korean Walnut Cakes

Hodo Kwaja (Walnut Cakes) are quite possibly my favourite thing in Korea. They are the most addictive little tidbits of yummy goodness! Inside these little walnut shaped cakes is a filling of sweet red bean paste and a whole walnut. Yeon-Soo's mom gave me a box of them today. Inside, there were four bags like the one in this photo that I took. I grabbed one bag for myself and shared the rest with my colleagues because, believe me, if I hadn't, I would have easily eaten the entire box!