Old Fashioned Story 1

At my favourite table right by the door, enjoying the last sunlight of the day.

lbbq of

There’s a Korean-American family of four at the table in front of me. The eldest boy is lost in a Roald Dahl book. The youngest insists he isn’t a baby when his mother tries to feed him a brisket slider. It is not so uncommon even for adults to feed each other, less so after a few drinks. One is essentially creating a morsel of love for the other. This son is the one whose eyes widen when he sees whiskey on the menu; his father asked him to choose a drink. He eventually settled on blue lemonade.

The husband jokingly says “one shot” when the beers arrive. The wife rolls her eyes; not for the the first or last time. The father explains to his eldest how to eat a pulled pork sandwich; he continues reading his book. Food for thought beats a thought for food, this time.

The Beastro (or why I don’t write restaurant reviews)

beastro card

To skip and go straight to the meal, click here.

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I rarely write restaurant reviews as it seems that anyone can do it (how well or how ethically is something else, though); it’s far too reminiscent of the ‘cash for comment’ scandal from back home; and if it’s a terrible place then they don’t deserve mentions OR if it’s an awesome place I’d rather not have to fight the masses for a table. Though to be fair, this is more a review of one dish since only a glutton would “order” eight dishes (for some people, ‘order’ means “I’ll write only favourable reviews in exchange for free food”, see ‘cash for comment’ above or any of the food bloggers in Korea when they are called out for being shameless shills).

Years ago I’d have lunch with an old Guardian journalist where we’d chew the fat over a meal. His beat wasn’t restaurant reviews (he used to write about East/West Germany) but occasionally he’d be called upon to fill those shoes. I can see how being a shill can be appealing since the first thing I naively asked him was whether he would tell the restaurant he was reviewing that he was reviewing them. I’ll never forget the look of shock on his face. He said that the reviewer should not have been influenced by the restaurant to write positive reviews since the point of the review is that every customer, whether prince or pauper, food blogger (shudder…) or bon vivant, gets the exact same service. You could be the most saintly person on the planet (you aren’t) and claim that despite being invited to a restaurant your review is completely unbiased, but your readers will still think you were influenced to write only nice things about the restaurant. Besides, invite implies you will be given free food, so please don’t write that you “ordered” your several course meal, enough drinks to drown a whale, and desserts.

In Korea, some food bloggers used to (and possibly still do) threaten restaurants with negative reviews if they didn’t receive a freebie (called ‘service’ here). For more on food blogging and WHY????!!, here’s something from Huffington Post. My favourites are below. You’d be surprised how many food bloggers are guilty of No. 3 in the culinary and literary wasteland that is Seoul, even though all were at some point employed as English teachers.

3. You have poor/nonexistent grammar skills. Sorry, but you really need to hear this: if you don’t know how to construct a proper sentence, at least to an acceptable degree, it hurts to read your blog posts. Like, it causes me physical pain. I’m not asking you to become a semicolon ninja; rather — for the love of god — use whole words instead of abbreviations, read up on the proper use of punctuation, and memorize the difference between there/their/they’re.

4. You’re a shill… for just about everyone. As bloggers, a lot of us write the occasional sponsored post. That’s fine, but don’t let them take over your blog just so you can accept every invitation that comes your way. You may have killer recipes, but if I have to sift through a ton of “Here’s me on a farm with ten other bloggers!” “Here’s me in the Lara Bar test kitchen!” “Here’s the president of Jamba Juice handing me a box of branded aprons!” I’ll get bored and stop coming back. Why? Because no matter what PR people think, brand stories are incredibly boring and are easier to tolerate when posted only occasionally.

Now, dear reader, on to my meal. 20150718_141023

I ordered the Hanger Steak on my old roommate’s recommendation. She was the first and probably the only roommate I’ll ever have because I always wanted to have a roommate. She was also most likely the best possible roommate to have; she’d be away most weekends so the cats and I had free rein over the apartment.

The steak is called hanger steak because it is the diaphragm of the animal so it just hangs there. I always knew it by its other name, Butcher’s Steak, since it is usually kept by the butcher as it is the best part (so they say). You’d be amazed at what butchers keep for themselves. After all, a good butcher would know the best cuts of meat.

The 24-hour slow-cooked steak was probably as tender as you could get a steak to be before it spontaneously falls apart. It came with fries (almost as ubiquitous as kimchi these days; can we not have have chips instead?), topped with parmesan and chimichurri. Parmesan on fries seems to be a trend in Korea. Thankfully these were not sprinkled with sugar and doused with sweet cream. For me, the chimichurri should have had more garlic; I’m a garlic fiend; and less vinegar. The gravy had hints of pepper to it, which always goes well with steak. Priced at 20,000 won, it was as far as I recall the most expensive dish on their lunch menu but definitely worth it.

I ordered a Moscow Mule as a palate cleanser between bites of tender steak. For 8000 won, it was rather small, barely larger than those mugs you see middle-aged men attach to their backpacks when they go hiking. But it was lunch time on a Saturday and I wouldn’t want to be tipsy on a weekend. The bar also had a much wider selection of whiskies than I would have thought.

How to get there

Here’s a map. The name in Korean is 더비이스트로‬. Here’s their Facebook page.

Korean address is 서울시 마포구 서교동 358-32 2층 121-838

Ph: 02 334 2500

More from Korea's Ambassador of Everything

Psy’s really milking that cow dry. But when certain websites make observations like this, some people react as if it is a hate crime to mention the daily gauntlet of street pizza and drunk driving.

This is a pretty accurate description of any weekday in my area, fist fight included. Though I wonder how KTO and the Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism feel about this. Or the guys paying Psy to hawk their wares; noodles, bibimbap, soju (soju makers and pojang macha vendors; those not chased away by government-hired gangsters; will be overjoyed). Perhaps any publicity is good publicity?

Anyway, the ministry and the people it likely pays exorbitant amounts of money for creating slogans to promote Korea have run with the gems below. Don’t worry, they’re all at most 3-word slogans.

Visit Korea Year 2010 – 2012 No longer updated, but replaced by a committee (yay?). And if counting multiple years for one year sounds familiar to you, then yes.

Korea Sparkling Great name for a Korean sparkling wine, not so much as a tourism slogan. The video presentation tries to explain why a slogan is needed in the first place; other countries are doing it, ergo…. The real reason may be somewhat different (see Visit Korea slogan becoming a committee).

Korea, Be !nspired (sic). This is the current official slogan. The website includes English – International (ambiguous at best) and English – Asian (???).

They probably thought it was clever.

Dynamic Korea (official government portal).

The government itself, as well as most cities in Korea, have official English slogans, too. Ulsan and Gimhae both have [City Name] for You! But my favourite so far is Daejeon’s slogan: It’s Daejeon. It seems as if whoever was tasked with making a slogan (see above: others are doing it, ergo…) wanted to see if anyone would challenge his suggestion. The problem with slogan is that I always imagine someone shrugging their shoulders when they say it. Followed by a sigh of resignation. You know, like in The Hangover Part 2 with the catchphrase “Bangkok has him now”.

 

The Plague of Appreciation

See what I did there? LOOK AT IT! It’s a thing, apparently.

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Got this on Tuesday, though I’m really hoping I can get one of the containership chocolate souvenirs or a model excavator. The best would be a model submarine, but that would have to come from the Special & Naval Ship Division (or SNSD as I like to call them).

plaque
Not proofread by G. Of course, Google is only a click away but then my job would likely become redundant

We had the farewell dinner last night. Usual marinated pork and pork belly at a place I hadn’t been to in years even though it’s across the street. The name means ‘twins’ which I guess is a reference to serving both kinds of pork. Made a speech; I’ve always felt incredibly lucky in Korea and said as much. Had Glenmorangie single malt whisky; one of my favourites, but not a fan of the Korean way of drinking. It’s understandable to take shots of something that costs 3000 won a bottle. When you’re drinking something that cheap the point is to black out as quickly as possible in the hopes that by the time you go to work the next morning you will not have a hangover while trying to operate heavy machinery. But when I’m drinking a 100,000 won bottle of whisky I want to enjoy it.

“When I drink whisky I want to taste it”.

The evening also involved the new girl dancing. This is a form of hazing that all new workers have to go through (the men usually have to perform one of the many Korean drinking tricks as well as sing/dance). It usually involves singing or dancing a popular song. The best song for a woman to sing is Eomeona by Jang Yun-jeong. Video with the next big thing right at the end of this post at Scribblings of the Metropolitician. I highly suggest you read the whole article, too. The hazing usually involves doing a love shot, though this time she was forced to do it with me so I’m not quite sure how that will be useful in her maximum four-year career at this company.

Went to a noraebang afterwards; drank a crate of beer. Went to another bar after that with one of the gwajang. He had the day off on Wednesday; he didn’t tell me, of course.

The Bungeoppang

Thankfully doesn't taste like fish at all
Thankfully doesn’t taste like fish at all

Had my first custard filled bungeoppang this weekend. It’s been years since I had one of these, though I used to eat these a lot when I lived in Nakseongdae. No matter what time of day it was, the subway station would always have a group of elderly people in hiking gear. This is because Nakseongdae Station is the most popular meeting point if one is going to climb Gwanak-san. It was only years later that I learnt some of those people were doing more than hiking.

Nakseongdae literally means ‘the place where a star fell’ referring to Gang Gam-chan. Apparently a meteor (like you could tell the difference between a star and a meteor if you lived in 948) fell in the area on the day he was born. He later became a hero of the Third Goryeo-Khitan War (1018-1019) and is counted as one of Korea’s greatest military heroes along with Yi Sun-sin and Eulji Mundeok, despite never being trained as a soldier.

Sometimes the vendor would be looking away when I’d order and would react like she’d seen a ghost when she looked up to see my white(…r than a Korean’s) face. To this day no one can tell me why they are shaped like a fish. The simplest explanation I’ve heard is that all cast iron moulds for this snack happen to be made in the shape of a fish and because customers are familar with this shape vendors see no reason to change it (brand recognition, IOW).

But why was this shape selected to begin with? The filling is always sweet red bean, until last weekend anyway, but then Europeans believed there was no such thing as a Black Swan because they had never seen one, until they came to Australia. That phrase later changed to mean something that is thought to be impossible but might be proven later not to be.

Anyway, bungeoppang are awesome and remind me of my time in the Nakseongdae gositel. While working for Korea’s dodgiest hagwon owner (with gems like “Joji, this month our office is in Bangbae” and “We didn’t pay the other teachers this month, but we’ll pay you” passed on by his lackey) is the nadir of my time in Korea, the best times in Nakseongdae were deciding whether to go to the old Gangnam for NY style samgyeopsal or Sillim for Samcheon’s sundae, salsa classes, and English club meetings.

My friends think I’m a pessimist. My friends are wrong.

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I start my new job in two weeks. But today I have to register my new address at Daejeon City Hall then go to my interview to change my visa at Ulsan’s Immigration Office. I like trains.

Ulsan's Ferris Wheel

A friend came to visit Ulsan this Lunar New Year. Not many people make the trip down to Ulsan “for fun” as there aren’t that many things to see; shipyard/car factory notwithstanding, but you need to book if you want a tour of those places. Aside from this friend, one from Sydney came down with her mates while she was here on a working holiday. It was a Tuesday so obviously we stayed out until 3 am.

The best thing about Ulsan during the Korean holidays (Lunar New Year, and Chuseok, around September) is the silence. I live next to the company’s offshore division so hearing some noise is expected; hearing Für Elise at 1 am does get annoying though. Why Für Elise? Find out here. But during these days even my cats are weirded out by the silence.

We had lunch at Uno Chicago Grill in UP Square. I’ve wanted to go to this place for a while since it is new and there is always a chance that new places aren’t dodgy. My visiting friend said the deep dish pizza was pretty solid (she has family in Chicago; so do I but I’ve never been). No photos as I only take photos of food I cook (or food that is so terrible that it should serve as a warning). The baby back ribs were good too, but I prefer the sauce that comes with the ones at Outback Steakhouse (avoid this place for anything else). Long Island Ice Tea and Tequila Sunrise were pretty spot on, too.

Click here and here for discussion on the merits and differences of New York pizza and Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Even after 5 years in Ulsan, this was the first time for me to ride this ferris wheel (first time riding any ferris wheel, actually). This ferris wheel is the biggest public ferris wheel in Korea, standing at 106 m on a 7-story building. This phrasing makes me think some chaebol prince has his own private ferris wheel. And after working in Ulsan I have a theory as to why “biggest” is something a lot of institutions in Korea proudly proclaim. “Striving” is another word that comes up a lot in PR on the peninsula. It’s a fancy word for “try” and so even if whatever initiative failed, the effort (as fruitless as it eventually was) can be applauded and the responsibility for failure can be somewhat mitigated.

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She said “It’s too big to fit”
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First time I’ve seen little K Korea. I’m sure someone was punished for this oversight.

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We went over to Dong-gu after this, but not before checking out that one guy with the creeper look, the Asian pornstache, and the cigarette at the Red Model Bar.

Did a bit of “hiking” at Daewang-am, which on account of my knee may not have been the best idea. Daewang-am is on the tip of Ilsan Beach away from the dodgy Korean sushi hwae center and my company’s construction equipment.

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There are usually more cats on this rock.
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The description says that seaweed does not grow on these rocks. I’m pretty sure seaweed doesn’t grow on rocks anyway.

The weather turned at around dusk. This was fine since we whiled away the hours with a few beers at The Golden Eagles. Rained a bit in the evening too, so Korea truly does have 4 seasons all in one day.

Promotion Time!

We had a post-promotion party last Tuesday (January 14). Skip ahead to read about the evening. Otherwise read on and learn about the wonderful world that is a Korean office,

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Typically the first department gathering is the one where we celebrate the promotions doled out every year. This time, the 대리 (dae-ri, assistant manager) and the 과장 (gwa-jang, manager) were promoted to 과장 and 차장 (cha-jang, deputy manager), respectively. The new gwa-jang was only a 4급사원 (office worker: permanent) when I first joined the department in 2009. This is the current department structure;

1 x 부서장 (bu-seo-jang, Department Head)
3 x 부장 (bu-jang, General Manager)
2 x 차장 (cha-jang, Deputy Manager)
2 x 과장 (gwa-jang, Manager)
0 x 대리 (dae-ri, Assistant Manager)
2 x 4급사원 (sa-geup sa-won, Office Worker: permanent)
3 x 사원 (sa-won, Office Worker: contract), 1 of these was “promoted” out of the department

The problem with having no assistant manager is that this person is usually the busiest because they have some modicum of power with which to actually get work done without having to slavishly report to Those Above (instead, they only have to sycophantishly report to Those Above).

The other problem is that one of the contract workers was promoted (she thinks) to the Board of Directors secretary team. In effect, the department has two positions open; three when I leave at the end of February.

Now, in most other contexts a promotion is something that should be celebrated since it usually requires hard work or at least some skill in brown nosing networking. Networking itself can be considered a skill worth being promoted for. But in Korea, by and large one is promoted if the following two requirements are met:

1. Be Korean (If you’re a Korean woman gwa-jang deputy manager is typically as high as you’ll go, because reasons)
2. Be in the same position for 4 years

So after a minimum of 12 years you will have reached the Deputy Manager level. The time taken to go from that to General Manager may vary but it is typically another 4 years. If you are too young (ie, younger than 50 but the Company is grooming you for a command role) you will be promoted to 부대 (bu-dae, I’m gonna label this rank Adjunct). The normal Adjunct is something like the chief administrative assistant in that he calls most of the meetings in the department head’s name (though he delegates the running of the regular meetings to a Manager or Deputy Manager). In my department, the Adjunct was the one that held the keys to the storeroom, dispensed the souvenirs (apparently he took some with him when he moved to a different department), and fed the office fish. He is also the one responsible for booking restaurants and organising department outings (though he usually delegates those roles to the secretary). The secretary, while only being a lowly contract worker, for her part wields a disproportionate amount of power because she regularly has meetings with the other secretaries and with the division Vice President. She also controls the department credit card.

There are of course exceptions to these promotion rules. The current department head is too young to have been promoted directly to that position, so he spent one year as an Adjunct before being raised to the leather throne. The owner’s son was brought into the family business as a General Manager despite being about 30 and having all of zero years of experience. On the flip side, the previous Adjunct was apparently involved in the iPad and shutterman debacle, so his promotion opportunities were capped at his current level. Considering his age, it could have been worse if it were possible to fire him. Younger workers would likely quit if there is no chance of advancement (supporting wife/children and parents notwithstanding, otherwise they will never quit). Sometimes they are even sent to punishment departments. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the purpose my department serves for the older employees.

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Replace “expensive” with “an admission of guilt”

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The evening started as all others where we will be dining with the Vice President. I wrote about what to do when that happens previously. (don’t worry, it will open in a new window) We went to a Korean Sushi place I hadn’t been to before (there is a difference, usually for the worse) but I was pleasantly surprised because there were very few bones in the raw fish we were served. Thank you, Korean Sushi chef for seemingly trying to do the one job you are being paid to do. Your effort is truly appreciated, even if the end result would probably have you chased out of town by a fish wielding mob if you were anywhere but Ulsan.

One can dream of a just world

Because this was an evening event, there was plenty of drinking involved. I tend to sit near my 삼천 (sam-cheon, uncle. Now you know why that makeolli place has that name) and he only drinks soju at these events. This is a good thing though because most of my coworkers don’t drink straight soju, instead preferring to mix it with beer (소맥, so-maek) or with cider and beer (I call this Korean champagne) so it tends to be just the two of us and the poor bastard assigned to speak to me in English that drink together. There is always someone assigned to speak to me at these events even though I usually prefer to observe the people around me rather than talk to them (you know, Prime Directive and stuff).

I hear David Attenborough’s voice all the time. Purely a coincidence that he’s talking about sloths and their toilet habits

After the obligatory congratulatory speeches (“I remember when Kim first came. He worked hard and got promoted after four years, etc”) and the obligatory acceptance speeches (“I got promoted after four years because Boss Lee helped me, etc”) I had a drink with one of the General Managers. He is the one that made his résumé into a Powerpoint presentation. He was only recently transferred to the department (see Dilbert comic above) so no one was drinking with him or talking to him. I mean, why waste your time building a relationship with someone who won’t be there in a few years. I thought I would highlight his ostracism further. Judging from his résumé, he’s had a fairly interesting work life at the company and I wouldn’t mind reading about his career if he were to write a memoir one day.

Before we left for the next round (이차 ee-cha, second round), the new VP had a drink with me. To be more precise, he handed me his glass and filled it for me to drink. This is a fairly common thing for an older man to do. Some things to remember

Panel 1 Guy is a cad. Safer in Panel 2 to hold the glass with both hands.

1. Always hold your glass with both hands. Sometimes if the person pouring the drink is younger than you they may say that you don’t need to use both hands. This may be a trap so I always use two hands. Sometimes if the person is older than you they will use one hand like the cad in Panel 1. Generally, people use two hands.

2. In Panel 3, before you drink, turn slightly away from the most senior person at the table. Generally this means you will turn away from the centre. This is supposed to show respect to that person, though these days I’m seeing fewer people do this.

3.a. If the boss poured a drink into his glass for you to drink you now need to return the favour. Hand his glass back and pour a drink for him. Make sure you hold the bottle with both hands (as in Panel 2. Panel 1 guy was probably shivved in an alley and his organs sold after that photo was taken). For extra points, moving one hand closer to the lip of the bottle shows more respect. And make sure you only fill it up to as much as he says as by this point in the evening he is probably trying to avoid drinking. If he intends to get his ancestors drunk that evening, he will tell you to fill it to the top and possibly fill your glass for you, too. Rarely you may even do a love shot.

Rare if you’re a foreigner. If you’re Korean, not so much

3.b. If it was your own glass and you want to avoid drinking, do not drain your glass. It is easier to sneak some lemonade or water into your glass so it appears that you are drinking soju. Water works better since it looks identical to soju. The one promoted to Deputy Manager once tried to get people drunk by filling his glass with water but filling their glasses with soju. He wasn’t even being clever about it; he filled both glasses while his intended victim was watching and then drank his “shot” as if it were soju. He even emptied the glass over his head as proof it was empty and slammed it on the table. So yeah, don’t be that guy.

The next round was at a pub. This is one of the classiest pubs I’ve seen since they serve typical pub food on white tablecloths. They also have one of the best views of the beach. Because it was Tuesday the two that were promoted decided a bottle of vodka would be a good idea. They also brought a bottle of Jagermeister but the bar didn’t let us drink it, thankfully. I was sitting next to the secretary and the guy that grew up in China (he’s a top bloke; we sometimes use Chinese as our secret language). Pouring drinks, pouring drinks, forcing people to drink, making slurred conversation with the Norwegian engineers at the next table; just the usual shenanigans. I was sitting next to the secretary and she was sitting next to the contract worker who was promoted (she thinks). This contract worker only joined us at the pub. I took a drink for the secretary but asked for nothing in return. This is called 흑 기사 (haek gisa, black knight) and usually involves a woman asking a man to drink for her. She has to then fulfill one of the man’s wishes. If the man refuses the drink, then the woman has to drink double. When the man is asking the woman it is called 흑 장미 (haek jangmi, black rose). Since I volunteered to drink for her; the new Deputy Manager poured her nearly a fifth of vodka; it would be poor decorum to expect something in return.

We left that pub around 10. I decided to go home to my cats when the contract worker who was promoted (she thinks) started chanting my name when she heard me speak Chinese to the guy who grew up in China. I always feel like a two-year-old being potty trained when my coworkers chant my name. I needed to be up early for the train to Daejeon to sign my contract and find an apartment (successfully) so I wasn’t in the mood for noraebang anyway,