I Survived Eating Pufferfish


I was extremely busy last night and crashed when I returned to my hotel.  It’s physically draining to be running around all day, hurrying up, stopping, waiting, springing into action.  Tomorrow night will be a very busy day for me as the most important dignitaries arrive here in Busan for the APEC Summit.  To read all about the APEC Summit and the goings-on here in Busan, visit http://www.apec.org/ or http://www.apec2005.org/.  The latter site goes into much more depth about what’s happening now here in Busan than what I could describe in a single blog entry.  It is quite an exciting time to be here in Busan.  I’m amazed to be on the front lines watching the action and advance preparations unfold.  I’m not a spectator, mind you, but I am watching while I work hard doing my small bit to make sure the show goes on smoothly.  The big show, the APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting, is yet to come on November 17, 18, and 19.  I will be here all the way through the Summit and will watch the last major plane fly away a few days later.
Yesterday I tried “bokguk,” or pufferfish soup.  The pufferfish, also known as the blow fish, is a spiny creature that blows itself up into a balloonish shape when it is frightened by potential predators.  The defense mechanism is one way for it to appear larger than life, scaring away the predator.  The pufferfish is also poisonous, secreting a poisonous toxin intended to kill its predator.  Many Americans know that Japanese enjoy eating pufferfish, better known in Japanese as “fugu.”  Stories occasionally come out of Japan claiming that someone died from eating “fugu,” typically caused by the improper preparation of the “fugu” dish.  In Japan, chefs receive extensive training on preparing “fugu” properly, removing the poison glands so that the puffin fish meat remains untainted.  It is considered a delicacy in Japan.

I did not realize that Koreans also eat pufferfish, although this fact makes perfect sense since Busan is just a few hours by boat off the coast of southern Japan.  In Korea, pufferfish is not generally considered a delicacy, and here in Busan, numerous shops serve the fish in a soup for about 5,000 Korean won (about $5.00).  The soup includes bean sprouts and chives and can be served either spicy or mild (depending on whether you want to eat it with red pepper paste.  It is typically served with rice and a variety of panchan, or side dishes.   The pufferfish meat is cut into large chunks and served in the soup.  One typically eats every part of the fish except the head, organs, and spine.  The meat is delicious.  Served fresh, the taste and texture do not taste like fish at all.  To use an overused cliche, the meat tastes more like chicken.  (Actually, it tastes more like frog leg.)  Perhaps best of all, the pufferfish has so few bones that it is very easy to eat. 
I’ve wanted to try “fugu” ever since I first read about it when I was a teenager.  Perhaps I’m crazy wanting to eat something that kills some people (I think the victims are typically children or the elderly).  I have no desire to eat live octopus, which here in Korea the cephalopod is occasionally known to kill an unwary diner if the struggling animal lodges itself in the diner’s throat and suffocates the diner, as happened to an unfortunate Korean man in the past year.  I personally think it’s cruel to eat live animals and would rather that my food not move on my plate while eating it.  I have the same apprehension whenever my wife’s family eats “drunken shrimp,” a Chinese delicacy featuring live shrimp soaked in alcohol.  I just cannot bear to eat an inebriated shrimp starting up at me with those big black eyes, as if to say, “Hey dude, surf’s up!”
According to Wikipedia, all species of pufferfish off the coast of Korea are considered poisonous.  It mentions a hilarious episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer Simpson eats pufferfish and is mistakenly told he has just 24 hours to live.  Like Homer Simpson, I too ate pufferfish and lived to tell about it.  Perhaps more daringly, I ate pufferfish at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant I’m sure is run by a Korean family as a small business.  I’m positive the cook did not attend professional pufferfish culinary training.  Well, I survived anyway.  Will I try it again sometime?  Oh, I suppose I will, depending on the occasion, now that I know how delicious it is.  Hopefully next time I will try it at an upscale restaurant, where I would feel more comfortable about how my meal has been prepared.

Happy New Year


Happy New Year, dear reader!  2004 has been quite a year for us.  It started in the Seattle area, where I was working for a local accounting firm as an IT consultant.  It ended in the Washington, D.C. area working for the Foreign Service, studying the Korean language in anticipation of our departure to Korea.  Although the tsunamis put a huge damper on this year’s festivities worldwide, life is good in our home.  I am very thankful for the changes in our life and the unique opportunity we have to travel and work overseas.

Have you made a New Year’s resolution?  I usually make a few, but this year I haven’t thought about it much.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been too busy.  If I were to make some resolutions, they would have to be as follows:

  1. Finish Korean language class with an adequate testing score
  2. Arrive in Seoul safely
  3. Take a real vacation

Weight is always something to watch, but fortunately I don’t have to check off a lot of the typical New Year’s resolutions.  The three goals listed above are definitely achievable.  I feel a lot better about learning Korean now.  It will always be an uphill battle for me, though.  I’ll know soon whether we make it to Korea safely without event.  Hopefully the worst that will happen is dealing with a fussy child on a trans-Pacific flight.  The third may not happen anytime soon because I first need to adjust to working in Seoul, get through my job’s busy season, and prepare for the upcoming APEC Conference in late 2005.  If the APEC Conference in Seoul is anything like it was in Chile this year, it should be interesting.  I’m sure that President Bush won’t have to pull his security guard into meetings like he did in Santiago.  We may not be able to go on an extended vacation until next November or December.  I have plenty of vacation saved up already.

I hope you had a wonderful 2004.  Please pray for the safety and restoration of those affected by the tsunamis in Asia and Africa.  Let’s hope that 2005 is better than 2004 for everyone.

12 Days in Hanguk


As promised, here is the Korean song I wrote.  Enjoy!

12 Days in 한국

Sung to the tune “The 12 Days of Christmas

 

On the 1st day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

A jar of 배추김치.

On the 2nd day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 3rd day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 4th day in 한국,
My 선배 gave to me,

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 5th day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

A 표 to 제주도!

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 6th day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Six bags of 홍차,

A 표 to 제주도!

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 7th day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Seven 서울지도,

Six bags of 홍차,

A 표 to 제주도!

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 8th day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Eight 한국드라마,

Seven 태극기,

Six bags of 홍차,

A 표 to 제주도!

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 9th day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Nine 신용카드,

Eight 한국드라마,

Seven 태극기,

Six bags of 홍차,

A 표 to 제주도!

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 10th day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Ten rounds of 노래!

Nine 신용카드,

Eight 한국드라마,

Seven 태극기,

Six bags of 홍차,

A 표 to 제주도!

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On 11th day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Eleven 태권도판,

Ten rounds of 노래!

Nine 신용카드,

Eight 한국드라마,

Seven 태극기,

Six bags of 홍차,

A 표 to 제주도!

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

On the 12th day in 한국,

My 선배 gave to me,

Twelve 전자제품,

Eleven 태권도판,

Ten rounds of 노래!

Nine 신용카드,

Eight 한국드라마,

Seven 태극기,

Six bags of 홍차,

A 표 to 제주도!

Four 젓가락,

Three 한복,

Two 핸드폰,

And a jar of 배추김치.

Sharing a vehicle


This is my first day going solo since I started Korean in July.  My wife has been going with me to Korean class from the very beginning, but today I’m on my own now that she has finished her language course.  She finished early so that she can take care of our son.  Until now her parents had been taking care of our son, but now they’re returning home in anticipation of our departure.  My wife will stay home with our son full time until at least mid-February when we head to Seoul.  After we get to Korea she may work part-time or full-time if she can find a good job there that does not require fluent Korean.  In the meantime she’ll be a stay-at-home mom.

We only have one car now.  We got rid of our other vehicles before we moved to the D.C. area, and now we’re down to one vehicle.  That was fine when we both had the same schedule, but now that we’re on different schedules we will have to time-share the car.  It takes a bit of creativity.  The weather is cold now and it won’t be fun walking outside for extended periods of time or waiting at a bus stop.  The Metro isn’t as convenient as it could be.  She will drive me in and pick me up while her parents are here, but after that I’ll be on my own if she needs to keep the car.  Having a second vehicle is so convenient.  I wish mass transit were convenient, but unfortunately not.  Perhaps when we return to the D.C. area in the future mass transit will be a more viable option for us.  In the meantime we’ll have to do some fancy schedule coordinating, and I’ll have to spend more time getting to and from school on my own.  It’s just two months–that’s not too bad.  I just hope that I won’t get caught in a big snowstorm between now and when we leave for Seoul.  We won’t always have a car around the world, but in most parts of America it’s such a necessity.

The end of D.C. baseball?


My wife passed her Korean exam with flying colors!  She passed 2/2 in Korean in just 24 weeks (level 2 speaking, level 2 reading).  Congratulations!  She is a language learning star.  It’s extremely rare for someone to reach that level in such a short period of time.  Me, I’m stuck at the 1+ level with over 1 1/2 months left to go in training.  She definitely leveraged her mastery of Chinese and might not have been so lucky in a completely unrelated language like Pashto or Finnish, but it’s still an amazing accomplishment.  Hats off to her.  I can only hope to be at about 2/1 in Korean by February.  Maybe next time I can study German!

Is this the end of professional baseball in Washington, D.C.?  I even went out and bought my new Washington Nationals baseball cap to support bringing back to D.C. after the announcement was made in late November that the Montreal Expos were moving to the Nation’s Capitol.  Last night though the D.C. Council approved funding for a stadium with the condition that about half of it would be paid for by Major League Baseball.  Three months ago D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams had negotiated a deal with MLB to pay for a new stadium for the Nationals, but now MLB will re-open the deal and possibly cancel it unless the D.C. Council agrees to pay for funding.  I would really like to see baseball in D.C.  I love baseball and miss watching the Mariners at Safeco.  Rooting for the Nationals would let me jump on the bandwagon early while they’re still terrible.  I’m personally critical of public funding for ballparks, but in this case if Williams had been given the authority to make a deal to bring the Expos to D.C. the issue of funding should have been sounded out months ago.  If the Council was opposed to public funding then Williams could have changed the terms of the deal during negotiations.  A deal breaker after the team move has been announced is a lousy way of doing business and gives the city a huge black eye.  The 2004 election changed the Council’s composition, but the main instigator Linda Cropp is a holdover from the previous council and has been pulling strings behind the scenes to change the terms of the deal.  Now it looks as if the team will remain the Expos and could move elsewhere.  Oh well, I guess that Nationals’ hat will be a collector item.

I dropped off some food and clothing today for the marine guards and families of Foreign Service nationals at the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Consulate.  A few of us worked together to put together a care package to send to them in the wake of the recent bombings.  It’s the least we can do sitting here thousands of miles away from the Consulate.  It should arrive before Christmas.

Korean test exhaustion


I took my second Korean language progress test today.  It was something I had been anticipating for over a month and worked hard to prepare for.  I did fine, and my test score was around where I thought I needed to be at this point in my testing–at the 1+ level in speaking at 24 weeks (on a 0-5 scale).  Overall I did OK on my exam.  I used complicated vocabulary well, and my sentence patterns were decent.  I made some mistakes.  My fluency is lacking, and I don’t have a large vocabulary.  My ability to talk about complex concepts is still very limited.  I also misunderstood some directions on the interview portion of the exam and took a minute to recover.  That was one of the lowlights.  On the other hand, my freeform conversation with the tester was great.

The testing observer confirmed these results with me, but apparently the tester did not think I did too well.  That’s a little disconcerting.  I know I need to buckle down and work harder–and smarter–but I don’t know what gave them the impression I didn’t do so well.  I haven’t have a chance to talk to them yet.  They talked to my wife, who was a bit alarmed because she did not talk to the observer who graded me and thought I had bombed the test.  I believe I’m close to where I need to be, but I also know I need to work harder because the learning curve will continue to grow steeper.  Unfortunately, I’m not gifted at learning languages.  I do fine, but I have to really work hard when learning a foreign language.  I have to work at learning technical subject.  Language development is very technical because all languages are built on a set of grammar and pronunciation rules.  Some universities compare the ability to learn foreign languages to learning mathematics.  I like numbers and languages, but I am not inherently a math person–nor apparently am I a guru at learning languages.  It’s a necessity though in my field and will help me communicate as I travel around the world.  I’ll learn, but it won’t be easy.

Tomorrow I’ll go to the tester and find out what’s on their mind.  I want to make sure I know their personal assessment of my Korean ability.  I also gave the testing tape to a third-party to review for their feedback.  I want to make sure that all instructors in the program know where I am in Korean and will give me the help I need to get to where I need to be before I finish the class.