Saturday, October 30, 2010

Go Gung: traditional Korean food in Insadong

이것은 이동 공, 우리는 서울의 인사동에 방문한 좋은 한국 전통 레스토랑에 대한 게시물입니다. 우리는 우리의 친구에게 그것을 추천합니다.

On our previous trips to Seoul, we've stayed in the Hongik University neighborhood, at the edge of the Sodaemungu for its proximity to Eastern Social Welfare Society, our Korean agency. This trip, we chose our hotel for its reputation and its proximity to Seoul's historical/cultural district. That meant moving our home-base in Seoul several miles northeast. While the location of the Somerset is great, we didn't know the neighborhood. There were none of the American food chains ubiquitous to the Hongik district and we could not retrace our steps to any of the hole-in-the wall Korean restaraunts we enjoyed in Insadong on previous trips. (Off its two main streets, Insadong is a warren of hidden back alley buildings and basements --fun to wander through, but hard to capture on a mental map.)

So Tuesday night, we did the tourist thing: asked the concierge at the hotel to recommend a nearby traditional Korean restaraunt. She pointed us to Go Gung. When she gave the address as "Basement #1 behind the Ssamziegil building" in Insadong, I thought we might never find it. But we did. The food was so good, we went back later in the week and took pictures. At that time, I learned Go Gung is rated by the Hi Seoul Festival as one of the top-rated restaraunts for traditional food in Seoul.

Getting there:

Insadong-gil is the main street that runs through the western edge of Insadong. This is the street that closes to road traffic on Sundays and becomes a pedetrian mall; the street tourists flock to for shopping in Insadong. If you ask a cab driver to take you to Insadong, he'll drop you at the head of this street. This intersection is about a five minute walk east of the Somerset. Head down the street and about a third of the way into the shopping district, on your left you'll see this building. (Incidentally, the print shop just to the north of this building is one of my favorite places in Insadong to buy original artwork; it is not silk screened for the tourist trade.)

The next building, less-visibly marked until you're right on top of it, is the Ssamziegil block.

This is the street placard on the alley that runs between the two buildings. It reads "Isadong 12-gil." Head down the alley.

The stairway to Basement Number 1 is the first on the left and looks like this:

Go all the way downstairs, following the arrow. Go Gung is the tenant on the left at the bottom with the gorgeous silk knots hung between glass walls.

Inside, you'll have a choice of western tables and chairs, or traditional floor seating at low tables. This is the menu as of October 2010. We ordered food the girls were familiar with: two orders of traditional bulgoki (which a hostess cooked at our table); one Go Gung Coil (Jap Chae); and one Mung Bean Pancake. It generously served 3 adults and three children.

The Mung Bean Pancake was delicious, but unlike others I have had: coarse textured and thick, with vegetable threads in the batter and an unexpected savory filling; served with a soy-based dipping sauce. We adults liked it but the girls were expecting something else. The side dishes were not identical both nights. But the green onion pancake and the shredded kimchee  pictured in the middle (only moderately hot) were especially good.

The traditional bulgoki,cooked at the table was delicious, although a bit sweet. Their Coil, or Jap Chae, could have been a meal for two on its own. It was outstanding. They use angel hair sweet potato noodles, which allow the flavors of the vegetables and the sauce to shine. I have a bulgoki recipe that stands up to Go Gung's, but am now on a quest to tune up a jap chae recipe to their standard. I think it was the variety of peppers that carried the day: black and white in the sauce plus hot red pepper threads among the vegetables, balanced by a sweetener that was someting other than sugar.

Mercy tells me not to forget to write,"They have the best sticky rice on the planet!" (She would know; she is not an adventerous eater and ate a lot of sticky rice.) We also loved the mysterious cold tea they served at the end of the meal: a fruity, sweet, green (?) tea that I would recreate at home except I that I have no idea what it was.

Go Gung is open from 11:30 AM to 9:30 PM. Reservations are not necessary. The menu is written in English and Hangul and there is an English-speaker scheduled most shifts. The prices are moderate: 15,000 won for a Coil that serves two; 17,000 won for Bulgoki for one (also serves two). Unfortunately, Go Gun does not have a take-out menu. So you'll have to stop in and try it in person next time you're in Insadong.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Korean Folk Village

이 게시물에서 나는 한국, 수원의 한국 민속촌에서 남쪽에있는 내가 좋아하는 장소 중 하나의 슬라이드쇼를 제공합니다. 내가 미국에서 역사이기 때문에, 난 정말 한국 역사를 즐길 수 있습니다.

There are a few places in Korea I've returned to time and again. No matter how short my trip, I've carved out  a day to spend at the Korean Folk Village, the open air living history museum just south of Suwon. This post is a photo essay to show you why I love this place.

Getting there (and the subject of taking the above ground train in Korea) will be the subject of another post. For now, sit back, imagine a faint haze and the smell of wood smoke, and enjoy a trip back into Korea's past.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Accessibility in Seoul

이는 10 월 2010 년 휠체어와 함께 서울 하는것 우리의 경험, 특히 지하철 시스템에 대한 게시물입니다. 서울은 2004 년 첫 여행부터 장애를 가진이 도시 사람들에게 접근할 수 제작에 많은 진전을 이루었습니다.

Accessibility was one of the reasons we decided to make our first family visit to Korea now, instead of waiting until the girls are all older. Because I'd traveled to Korea with Faith when she was six, we knew that Mercy and Hope were old enough to remember the trip. Joy, at three, was not. But in the near future, Joy will begin using a power wheelchair for mobility. And I knew from my previous trips that wheelchair accessibility in Korea would likely be an issue. So this post is a report on our experience with the state of accessibility in Seoul as of October 2010.

Seoul has come a long way since my first visit in early 2004. At that time, there were no curb cuts. Because each property owner was responsible for the patch of paving outside his door, the sidewalks were a crazy-quilt of paving materials. The "accessible" subway stations we encountered had only a metal platform lift that rode on a rail over the stairs. The lifts had no latching or tie down mechanisms to secure a chair to the lift and mostly seemed to be used for cargo. On my intervening visits, I've watched Korea put in curb cuts, create uniform sidewalks with embedded guides for the visually impaired, add audible cues to pedestrian crossing lights, and install elevators at many subway stations. To be clear: few of these would meet ADA standards in the U.S. A curb cut can still have a one-inch lip, an elevator may be too small to turn a wheelchair around in. The paver sidewalks were not laid over a compacted base so have heaved and are uneven. Pedestrians still share the sidewalks with motorcycles and cars. However, Seoul has come along way toward accessibility for people with disabilities in the past six years.

Testament to that fact, this trip we encountered people with significant disabilities wherever we went: visually impaired people were out with canes and guide dogs. People with impaired mobility were out using power wheelchairs. Groups of adults with cognitive differences were out in wheelchairs being pushed by other adults. It was wonderful to see Korea including its own people in the daily life of its largest city. Previously I wondered if there were many adults living with disabilities in Korea. Obviously, there are. But until recently, inclusion was not much of an option.

We were evaluating accessibility in terms of Joy's stroller-style push chair, below, with an eye toward the power chair she will be using the next time we return.

For all practical purposes, Joy's current chair is essentially an advanced umbrella stroller (the Special Tomato Buggy) with seating inserts (Special Tomato, size 1) to help her sit up. So what we were seeking in terms of accessibility this trip was not much different from parents using any stroller. Except that Joy can't walk. With the distances to cover on foot in Seoul, any parent sightseeing with a jet-legged toddler or preschooler would want to use a stroller.

Tourists in Seoul typically get around by taxi or subway. We found no taxis with lifts of any sort. So chairs and strollers need to collapse to fit in the trunk of a taxi car. (While the Special Tomato collapses like an umbrella stroller, the inserts must be unbuckled and removed first. So we avoid collapsing it when we can.) Some Deluxe Taxis are actually mini-vans. Those were variable in terms of Joy's chair fitting in the space behind the back seat without collapsing it first. Often,we simply had to pull the seat forward to make more space. The stroller fit in every Jumbo Cab we took. However we never found a Deluxe van or a Jumbo van at a cab stand. We had to book one the day before we needed it. So they only worked for planned trips (like to the Agency, to the train station, to the airport). The rest of the time we were dependent upon the subway.

Most of the subways we encountered in Seoul had an elevator from ground level down to the ticketing level. The majority of these elevators are located in the middle of the subway station, midway between the exit/entrance stairs. However a few were at one end of the station or the other, so sometimes we just had to walk above ground until we found one. A few stations (Myeongdong comes to mind) still have no elevators. Because all the elevators at all the stations have been retrofitted, the engineers had to squeeze in the mechanical tower wherever it fit. So in many cases, the placement isn't user-intuitive.

At ground level, the location of most of the elevators are not marked with signage. But it also isn't necessary since the big glass box looking like an overgrown telephone booth could be seen a block away. Inside the subway stations, the locations of elevators are  usually marked with a sign like this:

An elevator 35 meters away like this one, was a happy find. Sometimes the sign said 150 meters. In that case, we took stock and often decided it would be faster to take Joy out of the stroller and carry it and her up the stairs or escalator. We won't have that choice when we return next time and she is using a power chair. If you do take an elevator, be prepared for the fact that they are the province of the elderly (with good cause if you've experienced Seoul's subway system). The pecking order is that the elderly go first and Koreans in power chairs go next. Foreigners who appear to be pushing an able-bodied infant in a stroller will be bumped by newspaper vendors and others hauling their wares. So they may have to wait for a few elevators until there is room.

A parenthetical: Maybe, if we were there long enough, we'd get over Minnesota Nice and get pushy. In interpersonal relationships, Koreans are exceedingly kind and gracious. But this is not true in anonymous public situations.  I was pushing Joy down a sidewalk in Itaewan. The sidewalk crossed an alley. I barely paused to look before crossing and we were nearly run down by a driver coming down the alley who didn't stop. Shaken by our near miss, I protested to my husband, "But pedestrians have the right of way in marked crossings! It is illegal for a driver to cross a sidewalk without stopping!" He reminded me of the obvious: "But we're not in America." So: when in Korea, try to make your jet-lagged brain think like a Korean.

Going in and out of the subway system, we found one lane for disabled users at every subway station, even those without elevators. It was a gate that needed to be opened by pulling it toward you. A wheelchair user would have to have the ability to flash his transit card, reach forward, grasp the top of the gate, roll backwards to open the gate while holding onto it, then navigate through the open gate. Obviously even Koreans find this impractical because there was an attendant at most stations who operated the gate. The attendant's real job may have been to discourage able-bodied people from walking through the accessible lane without paying for a subway ride, which happened at every station where there was no attendant on duty.

Speaking of a subway ride, the card readers for the accessible lane were at the perfect height for a wheel chair user. But the automated kiosks at which dispense transit cards and reload them with money were not accessible to a seated person. (Aside from that, the kiosks are user-friendly: touch screens with visual and audible cues in English and Korean.)

Once you are through the turnstiles and into the subway system, another accessibility issue crops up: finding the elevator (if there is one) down to track level. Again, engineers must have been challenged to retrofit the system because the presence of an elevator connecting the ground and ticketing levels does not promise there will be an elevator going down to the tracks. There may be an escalator, or stairs may be the only option. I assume that  in the disability community in Korea it is commonly known which stations are completely accessible and which are not. But as tourists we felt at the mercy of the developing system. Again, we were grateful that Joy is at an age when one of us can carry her and the other can carry her equipment.

Down at track level, signs like this one on the floor indicate the subway cars on each train that are accessible.

Moving from the platform into the car is easy. The floors are at the same height and the gap between the platform and the train is usually insignificant as long as your wheels are at right angles to the threshold when you cross. Inside an accessible car, there is a space like this one where wheelchair users may park.

Often, when we first boarded, the space was filled with standing people. But in this case, they always moved to make room for Joy, who usually rode in her chair with the wheels locked, facing out. (In the picture, she was on daddy's lap.) Power chair users generally parked parallel to the wall looking out toward other subway riders.

At our destination, getting back up to street level was usually the reverse of going down: a trek to locate the elevators, or taking the most direct route by carrying Joy up the stairs. But at one station we were blessed to find this at track level right off our train:

This transit card reader outside the elevator signaled that we would be able to go directly from the tracks all the way up to ground level on the same elevator. It was amazing: exactly how a user-friendly accessible subway system would be designed if it was planned from the drawing board, not retrofitted into an existing system.

It is quite possible that if we lived in Korea and were part of the disabilties community there, we would not find subway accessibilty as challenging as we did as tourists. For example, here are two signs that were widely posted next to each other, obviously directed at wheelchair users, but unfortunately for us, written in Hangul:

As Korea innovates ways to make the ancient city of Seoul accessible, it makes sense to start with accessibilty that is meaningful for the Koreans who live there. But I can hope that someday, by the time our little Korean-American is ready to return to her homeland again, even if she uses a wheelchair, that she will find it welcoming and accessible to her. Korea has come so far that it is quite possible. Maybe Joy will grow up to write a guide book called Accessible Seoul, a book I wish was available right now in English.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Korea, October 14-17, 2010

내가 만약 한국 Gyongbokgung, 우리의 호텔, 서울 서머셋 팰리스, 약 여행에 대해 가야 우리의 긴 여행에 대해 공유했습니다.

I drafted this before I realized I could not sign in to post from Korea. This is the first in a series of retrospective posts about our trip.

It is hard to believe we have been here less than 48 hours. This is my sixth trip to Korea. It is my husband's third visit, Faith's second, and the younger girls' first return visit since they were babies. Since this was a planned trip, I chose my favorite itinerary: leave on Thursday, arrive on Friday, and spend the weekend recuperating so we've recovered our wits by Monday morning.  At the last minute we decided to haul Joy's car seat to use on the plane, instead of the FAA-approved 5-point restraint CARES harness we had planned to use. The seat was worth the hassle for the extra support it provided for the long flights.

We left home Thursday October 14 and arrived at 4:30 AM Saturday the 16th thanks to the International Date Line and a delay in Narita due to mechanical problems with the plane. Joy used the unexpected layover to stretch out for a nap.

We're staying at the Somerset Palace in Insadong, a lovely hotel with nice amenities for families. (I'll make a separate post about the hotel for my adoption friends.)

The Somerset Palace, Seoul

By Sunday, we'd recovered enough to want to get out and do something. We chose Gyeongbokgung, the reconstructed royal palace across the street from our hotel--although in Seoul, "across the street" means a 15 minute walk and crossing 10 lanes of traffic. Inside the gates, modern Seoul vanishes--with the exception of tourists.

For years, the English language guided tours of Gyeongbokgung have been at 1:00 PM. My first trip, my mom and I arrived at 9:00 AM and could not return later. Afterward, browsing the English titles in the Foreign Language section in the Main (or Jongno) branch of Kyobo Books, I discovered an inexpensive series of photo essay books, Korean Ancient Palaces, by Youl Hwa Dang Publishing Co., in which Kyongbokkung Palace (same place, alternate spelling) is Volume One. The book is more detailed than the English language tour (which I caught the next trip) and at 4,000-6,000 won per paperback title, is easy to bring home.

On my second trip, my husband and I were standing at this spot in Gyongbokgung when we named Hope.

Six years later, she saw the place she's always heard about at the beginning of her story.

As the trip progressed, it became clear that the girls are enamoured with koi.

They spent half an hour following a school of fish around this reservoir.

Grandma and the girls heading back toward the Somerset at the end of our second day in Korea.

It is good to be home

We had an amazing trip to Korea and arrived home last night after about 24 hours in transit. I anticipated posting about our trip from Korea, but couldn't sign in from our hotel. So now that we're home, unpacked and I have caught up on the laundry (being wide awake at 2:00 AM has a few advantages), I'll start a series of posts chronicling our adventures.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Golden Moments: Golden Shower

Teacher declared an unscheduled recess at 11:10 AM on an October morning when the wind picked up and one of the ash trees in the back yard decided to shed its coat. The show was over in ten minutes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Meet Daisy

Faith, with Daisy at six weeks old.

What 10 year old doesn't dream of dogs and horses? Faith has been growing in responsibility --a good thing in a would-be dog owner. With Faith home schooling each day, and Joy's surgery coming up this winter, it was a good time to begin looking for a family dog. Of course, we were only looking.

Shi Tzu/Poodles usually grow up to be good therapy dogs because they are intelligent, sweet-tempered, and love people. They are also small, maturing at 8-10lbs. Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Joy may also have a service dog someday, a larger breed specially trained to be helpful: pick up dropped pencils, open doors, retrieve and deliver a requested item. A therapy dog is a companion. So two weeks ago we made a trip to Faribault to investigate a Shi-poo breeder. And we met Daisy and her siblings.

On October 3, we brought Daisy home. She weighed 2 lbs. 0 ounces--exactly what Joy weighed at birth. Daisy is already beginning to show some of the light brown tipping over her cream fur that will, in a year, leave her looking as much like a teddy bear as a dog.

Hope, too, is smitten --except when Daisy gets frisky and wants to play like a puppy.

Joy did not enjoy her first kiss.

Daisy is still so small that it requires some creative buckling to make her harness fit.

South Dakota

이는 9 월 2010 년 할머니와 할아버지와 사우스 다코타 우리의 여행에 대한 게시물입니다. 우리는 가족으로서 함께 즐거운 시간을 소비했다.

With our family trip to Korea on the horizon, we decided to take a trial vacation to try out being confined in a seat in a moving vehicle all day and to work the kinks out of packing for six. We spent the week after Labor Day in the Black Hills with my dad and his wife renacting the summer vacations of my childhood. Here's a taste. Some of the photos are courtesy of Grandma.

Faith, Hope, and Mercy. Above them, George Washington looks east from Indian Country.

The Badlands were not nearly as hot as I remember on my last visits, thirty-some years ago, in mid-summer.

But they were just as beautiful.

The girls think the burros in Custer State Park were the highlight of the trip, although Joy wasn't sure she was enjoying this ride. In my childhood, every burro this color was named "Cocoa." The girls dubbed this one "Sunshine." We fed the burros cheese curls, another old family tradition.

Joy likes daddy better than burros.

Mercy at Crazy Horse, who is pointing toward the lands where his dead lie burried. Visiting was a yearly pilgramage (and still is for Grandma and Grandpa), although seeing the man inside the mountain was an act of faith when I was Mercy's age.

Needles Highway was my favorite part of the trip. Recall this was a trial vacation? One important thing we learned is that Mercy (who could not read at all the last time we made a road trip) can't read in a moving vehicle --hence the improvised outfit.

Faith can't read in moving vehicles either, but managed to read three books on the trip anyway.

Mercy and Hope have a lot in common. Including shoes.