Farewell 2013. We hardly knew ye

This is the award we won this year for our company magazine.

award

We had a department dinner last night, kinda farewell for the old department head. It was at the very first restaurant expats are taken to when they come to Ulsan. He asked us to give him an appreciation plaque and I had to write the inscription. I wrote something along the lines of “great appreciation for exemplary service”.

Apparently it snowed last night. It may have snowed while we were out but I don’t remember. This morning a few of my coworkers couldn’t come in to work because while it snows every year in Ulsan, Ulsan City is never prepared for snow. I always take the shuttle bus through the shipyards, and even Zeus can’t stop the shuttle bus.

And with that, I’m out for 2013. This wizard will be in Oz for two weeks where I will attempt to eat my own weight in Tim Tams and Iced VoVos.

 

So you're having lunch with the VP….

You’re having lunch with the VP (or a higher up, lucky you) but you don’t know what to do. Though you can sometimes get a pass on account of not being Korean, it’s better to know what to do and a great way to impress your coworkers. Click Here to skip to the tips. Otherwise, read on for some background information.

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An underappreciated series. Everything I know about baseball I learnt from this

Management reshuffle in the office this week. The old department head is out, being sent back to the department from whence he came. The new department head was previously a 부대 (budae, one step below bujang, general manager, usually because of age) but now sits on the leather throne. This means that the team dealing with the foreigners will be down one or more members temporarily. This also means that he is now the youngest bujang but officially outranks the other bujangs. Interesting times ahead, I’m sure.

Some of us in the office have had to change desks. My new desk is farther away from the door. In a Korean office, the closest person to the door is usually at the bottom of the office pecking order.

Kinda like Europe

We also have a new vice president. Usually the first formal meeting will be in the office. He (and it is always a he) will come into the office for the usual pleasantries. In this case, we had all met the new VP before because he was promoted from within the division. The second formal meeting will usually be a lunch at a mid-priced restaurant. Rarely is it dinner, because dinner has the potential to get out of hand since no one needs to go back to the office afterwards. Today’s choice was a little odd, but that might have been because we had planned to have this anyway and the VP tagged along (writing that felt weird).

This was lunch. It is dwayji gukbap (돼지국밥), a pork stew with rice. It was served in a clay pot designed to keep it hot. People I eat with always assume I don’t like Korean food because I don’t eat straight away. This is not true; I simply don’t want to burn my tongue. It amazes how some people can eat something that the cook has literally had to use a blacksmith’s tongs to remove from the fire and bring to your table. Everyone has their talent, I suppose.

gukbap

I’m told this one is the best one in Dong-gu. Most people load it with Korean chili paste but I prefer to add salt; the amount of salt I add is too much, according to most Koreans I have eaten with. Anyway, the meat used did seem to be of higher quality than most other places that sell this food; it is a very popular dish in this area. Think Starbucks every few metres in Gangnam; the same goes for gukbap in Dong-gu. They also added pork skin to it because it is good for your skin (makes sense if you don’t think about it). Sides were the typical radish kimchi and cabbage kimchi; both above average for this area. One interesting extra was the julienned green chilli to add to the soup if the Korean chilli paste and Korean shrimp paste (새우젓, sae-oo jeot) isn’t enough.

Here are some tips on what to do (and not do, I guess) when you are dining with a VP.

  1. Do not sit until you are seated. It is very important to sit in the right place. The power position is at the centre of the table, not the head or foot of the table; no one sits at the head or foot of the table if there are seats available anywhere else. The highest ranking person, in this case the VP, will be sitting in the middle with the bujangs on either side and in front. The exception to this is if the VP has specifically asked for someone to sit next to or opposite him. If this is the case, then it is sometimes one of the newcomers (as a foreigner in a Korean company, you’re always the newcomer to a new VP) or a female worker of the lowest rank (and usually the youngest, too). Today I was sitting on the kid’s table as each table only accommodates four diners.
  2. Stand up when the VP arrives. And bow, too. I shouldn’t need to tell you to bow since you should be doing this to every person you meet for the first time. This is easier if the restaurant has chairs and tables, but either way it is something that you must do. Do not sit down until the VP sits down; he will usually tell you all to sit down.
  3. Do not eat until the VP eats. This is super important and goes back to the time tigers used to smoke. Apparently the rabbits ran the opium dens in those days. The problem arises when you arrive at the restaurant before the VP (this will always be the case; he needs to make an entrance is busy). The side dishes (반찬, banchan) will already be prepared for your party because there is a person whose job it is to book these kinds of events. DO NOT TOUCH THE FOOD! Even if the VP isn’t there to see you. The last VP, when he was newly elevated, requested me at his side. He waited for an uncomfortably long time before he started eating because he wanted to see who should be the first to feel his wrath. Once the VP starts eating, then you have permission to eat.
  4. Drink when the VP drinks. If you are a newcomer, and remember that as a foreigner you always are, especially when people you’ve worked with for years still ask you if you can eat spicy food, the VP will give you his soju glass and pour you a drink. You take a shot and then hand it back. usually you’ll pour a drink for him and he will take a shot. Sometimes he may want to do a love shot with you, but that is a story for a future post. Today there was no drinking involved as it was lunch.
  5. Be grateful. As in, thank the VP for the meal and his presence. And thank the person paying. Today it was the new lead for my team.

Regarding Drink when the VP drinks, when alcohol is involved it gets a little more complicated as there are rules for these kinds of things. It is also a good opportunity for workers of different ranks to interact in a more comfortable setting. But again, future post.

After lunch, we had coffee. The VP ordered the same coffee I ordered; peppermint latte, because Xmas. I’ve noticed that every VP I’ve had coffee with always orders the same drink I order. Of course, I never order espresso in these situations because there’s a certain stereotype associated with it and it is best not to stand out from your coworkers. Though paradoxically, I will always stand out.

So there you have it. Now go forth and conquer those company power lunches!

wicked witch

The French Restaurant

Went to a French restaurant on Saturday for our annual Christmas party. The restaurant is named after a painting but I’m loth to name it because if more people go there then there will be less chance I’ll be able to get a table. This is what I look like when I go to a French restaurant. I’m pretty sure the owner thought I was French.

french
Yes, I was wearing brown shoes

The Christmas party is usually at my house where I cook something festive (we had mulled wine last year, too) and prepare stockings but this year I was too busy (Gawd, George! Everyone has 24 hours in a day! What makes you so busy?!) so it was decided that we’d try this French restaurant. I always have super low expectations for non-Korean food in Korea, especially if the restaurant is advertising itself as authentic (전통 ‘traditional’ in Korean). For example, the Greek restaurants in Seoul call themselves authentic yet serve a yeeros plate. Son, that’s Greek takeaway food. Perhaps authentic is one of those buzzwords Korean restauranteurs like to use to signal premium prices.

One advantage of having really low expectations is that it doesn’t take much to impress me.

The food was very good, though not strictly French. There was a Russian soup, which was exactly like a beef burgundy but without the red wine. There was a caesar salad (not named after Julius Caesar but after the restaurateur who invented it), and a pasta. There was also a mousse for desert. The highlight for me was the Chateaubriand steak, followed closely by the caesar salad for the sole reason that it had prosciutto. I tried making Chateaubriand once but forgot that my pan had a plastic handle so it melted a little in the oven. Their steak was served with a nice mustard. This kind of steak can also be served with a reduced sauce of shallots, butter, and tarragon. Here’s the chef preparing it for us (not my photo).

cutting steak

Strangest thing of the evening was not when the tenderloin was brought out for us to see before it was cooked. It was when several of my friends started taking photos of the raw meat, as every butcher sells this cut. The Maitre d’ told us the tenderloin had been freshly procured that very morning.

Before the steak course we had our traditional Secret Santa event. The Korean version allows you to steal another’s gift rather than open a gift yourself. But beware, someone my steal the gift you just stole. Obviously it is best to be the last person to choose since you will know what all but one of the gifts are and there is no risk of someone taking your gift away. If your gift is stolen, you may open another gift from the pile.

This year the gift I prepared was whiskey balls. Everyone loved sucking on my whiskey balls.

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I made chocolate salty balls once. They were pretty popular, too.

The other part of the Secret Santa gift was a winter hat. I got myself one of these too so together we could be hat twins!

hat
Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything. – Wash

In all, a good evening with good people. I agree with The American that some things were a little off: the waitress looked like she was going hiking or had just returned from hiking; one of the books on the shelves was called ‘Korean Taliban’ (한국인 타레반); there were pictures of Brittany as well as pictures of Venice; people at another table looked like they ordered Chinese delivery.

Cooking Time: "Asian" Beef Salad

I had some steaks so I made Steak Diane because I’m living in the 70s. It’s actually my mum’s favourite kind of steak so now I make it, though I use whiskey since I can’t find brandy (and when not used for cooking I can drink the whiskey anyway). I used the other steak for a salad. As much as I would like to have a steak for lunch, it just isn’t practical at work.

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salad photo

Ingredients (should be enough for 2)

  • 200 g steak (no need to use an expensive cut or to season since you’re going to slice it up and drizzle it with salad dressing)
  • Oil or butter to fry the steak in
  • Half an onion, sliced. I’d have used one of the purple ones to class this up, I if had one.
  • 1 bunch of lettuce, chopped or hand-torn (ooooh, how artisanal). I used the one commonly eaten with samgyeopsal. It’s kinda like Romaine/Cos lettuce
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved/quartered lengthways. Quartered looks prettier.
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed. I always use more
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 2 tbs sesame oil
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs lime or lemon juice

Method

Cook your steak how you like it. I prefer rare to medium rare so about 2 minutes on each side for a steak 2 cm thick. DO NOT TOUCH THE STEAK ONCE YOU PUT IT IN THE PAN! The only time you turn the steak is when the side you’re cooking is done (use a timer!). If you turn it too early you may get bits of it stuck to the pan – though this is a much bigger problem if you’re frying sauteeing a chicken breast – or you’ll end up losing most of the juices.

Once the steak is cooked, leave it to cool on a clean plate. Yes, we’ve progressed so far from our days huddled in caves roasting an animal that we need to specify ‘clean plate’.

Get your onion. Cut the onion in half lengthways (ie, cut from head to foot, not around the middle). Peel the half you will use for the salad. Place the now peeled half of thee onion on your chopping board and cut it in half, again lengthways. You will now slice across the cut you just made, creating happy little quarter circles of onion. Set these aside.

The half of the onion you aren’t using in this salad you can give to children and your coworkers as a special treat. Tell them it’s a delicacy from your hometown and decry their cultural insensitivity when they refuse to eat it (maybe better to laugh at the kids instead).

In a bowl, add your soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and lime/lemon juice. Using a fork (rustic) or an eggbeater (lazy) or a stab mixer (seriously?!), mix the oils until they form a somewhat homogenous liquid. Add your garlic to the emulsion and mix. Set the bowl aside.

By now your steak should have cooled enough for you to cut it (it should also have reabsorbed the juices it was leaking when you took it out of the pan). Slice the steak as thin as you can (or like, but for a salad thin slices are best) so you end up with slices between 2 to 5 cm long. If you want that extra beefy flavour you can mix the juices from the steak you just cut into your dressing.

Add the lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced beef to your dressing. Now toss that salad.

On a completely unrelated note, here’s some of Chris Rock’s standup.

If you like, you can add cucumber as well. You can also Thai it up by adding chopped peanuts and hot chilli. Ginger could probably work too, but don’t use too much as ginger pretty easily overpowers everything else.

Hi, my name is George and I'm a game addict

Not really. I play games, mainly World of Warcraft; currently as a healer monk since having the power of life and death over 4 other players is appealing to me; and Civilization 5; currently as Harun al-Rashid in a bid to rule the world through trade and religion (though my words of peaceful wisdom are backed by NUCLEAR WEAPONS). I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to gaming, mainly because my definition of an addiction is best described by Bob Saget’s character in Half Baked. (Just replace marijuana with gaming).

Some people in Korea believe gaming to be an addiction akin to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. Oddly enough, smoking  is not on this list despite the decades of evidence showing how addictive it is. Often what is left unsaid reveals far more than what was actually said. Articles follow

Parties Clash over game Addiction Act – Korea Herald
Korea Finds League of Legends Guilty of Addicting Teens to Gaming – SegmentNext
Games, son? Why can’t you just smoke like the other kids? – Korea Times
The last paragraph of the Korea Times piece says it best

It’s hard to imagine that Korean youngsters would be this attached to games if the country had better public infrastructure for sports and leisure. But it’s not that parents would be happier if their kids were playing football and basketball instead of games when these activities are just as irrelevant to test scores, which are definitely the biggest addiction of them all.

The gaming industry in Korea is worth about $9 billion. For what it’s worth, the all-conquering Korean music industry, the harbinger of Korea’s global domination of everything (they say) is worth about $4 billion. Some people in other countries believe this, too. Likely these are the kind of people who believed hopscotch was addictive when it was all the rage.

My school banned British Bulldog once because we used to play on asphalt and most of us were on the touch rugby team. I was on the one with the girls since all the cool kids were in the A team. My B team did much better in the state tournament, though.

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?t=geodefvsthewo-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00BCNV1CA&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr  http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?t=geodefvsthewo-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00CYOHL48&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

 

Strider of Ulsan

I like sitting right up in the back of the local Starbucks. It gives me a good view of the rest of the cafe while I remain relatively unnoticed. People do a double take as I’m leaving if I’m wearing my blue jacket since aside from one other guy, only Koreans wear the blue jackets.

My Olympus was the sh!t when I bought it. Now it's just sh!t. Pretty decent for macro though
My Olympus was the sh!t when I bought it. Now it’s just sh!t.
Pretty decent for macro though

It reminds me of that scene in Fellowship of the Ring when we first meet Strider. Though I have my espresso, my water, and my book instead of a cigarette.

This is also why cats love sitting in small places or in high places. They can remain hidden while they observe the world around them, or have a better view of the world around them (while also lording their elevation over the sofa pillows).

yoda bag
You can’t seen me. I’m invisible

So a Greek and a Korean walk into a bar….

In my rounds of media monitoring I found these items of Greece’s president Karolos Papoulias and Korea’s president Park Geun-hye agreeing on deepening economic cooperation. Greece and Korea have a relationship that goes back to the Korean War, with the Greek Expeditionary Force fighting in Korea before the two countries even had diplomatic relations. Greece sent the 5th largest contingent (10,581), not too shabby for a country dealing with the aftermath of World War 2 and being the first theatre of the Cold War.

Various news articles follow

S. Korea, Greece agree to deepen economic cooperation – Yonhap
Να επενδύσουν στην Ελλάδα καλεί τους Κορεάτες ο Κάρολος Παπούλιας – in.gr
朴대통령 “한·그리스 해운·조선 협력, 더 큰 기회 될 것” – newsis

A Greek company was the first to place orders at my company, before the shipyard was even finished. The same company still places orders for ships here. My dad was a crew member on one of this owner’s ships back in the 60s. Trade between the two countries is heavily skewed towards Korea though, with Greeks being the biggest buyers of ships. Korean investment in Greece, on the other hand….

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The Greek forces received high praise for their actions during the Korean War, with Sparta Battalion receiving a US Presidential Unit Citation for their defence of Outpost Harry (harry sounds like one of the Greek words for hell). I strongly recommend you watch this episode of The Time Machine. He starts with the Greek idiom “it is like Korea”. It’s used to describe extreme situations. So I guess one could say Greece now is like Korea?

The guy at 14 m gets me every time (screencap)

polatides

At 23 m, there are eyewitness accounts of life in the army camp, both for the Greeks and the Koreans. It is not for the faint of heart (hunger, poverty, among other things). Details from survivors of Outpost Harry begin at 27 m. My mum says my great-grandfather fought in Korea, as well as a few other relatives.

Greek with English subtitles