Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baseball in Tokyo

The same day we arrived in Tokyo our friend Aja, whom we were staying with, bought us tickets to a baseball game. We went to watch the Yakult Swallows play the Hanshin Tigers. Unfortunately it was raining that night, fortunately there were plenty of beer kegs around!

We were at Jingu Stadium with Aja and her co-worker Steve (he met us at the subway station and took us to Aja’s place). Even though it was raining we still had a great time there. It was a fun experience watching the Japanese cheer on their team with their dances and chants.

Empty stadium due to the rain

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Green beer kegs carried on backs to keep our cups full and us happy!

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Here is a video of Krista and I on the megatron screen, the 7th inning stretch dance and some regulars cheering on the Swallows (Click here to watch the video if you’re viewing via email).

Gooooooooo Swallows!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo

During Chuseok vacation Krista and I went to Tokyo for a few nights. We stayed with Aja, a friend Krista knew in college. Aja teaches Chemistry at an international school in Tokyo and she graciously offered us a place to stay while we were there. Hopefully she comes to Seoul to visit us as well!

The biggest highlight of our trip was the Tsukiji Fish Market. The area is divided in to two large areas – the inner market and outer market. The inner area is the licensed wholesale market, this is where the auctions take place, as well as most processing of the fish. Here there are approximately 900 dealers operating small stalls.

The outer market is a mixture of wholesale and retail shops that sell Japanese kitchen tools, restaurant supplies, groceries and seafood. There are numerous restaurants as well, the majority being sushi restaurants.

The market handles over 400 different types of seafood from tiny sardines to 300kg tuna. It is open most mornings except Sundays and holidays. At 3am shipments from planes, trucks and ships are unloaded from all over the world. The auctions start around 5:20 am and bidding can only be done by licensed participants. We woke up around 4:30 am and made it to the market around 6:00 am to see the live tuna auctions.

Tuna auction

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The auctions usually end around 7:00 a.m. Afterward, the purchased fish is either loaded onto trucks to be shipped to the next destination or on small carts and moved to the many shops inside the market. There the shop owners cut and prepare the products for retail. In case of large fish, for example tuna and swordfish, cutting and preparation is elaborate. Frozen tuna and swordfish are often cut with large band saws, and fresh tuna is carved with extremely long knives, some over a metre in length.

The market is the busiest between 5:30 and 8:00 am, and the activity declines significantly afterward. Many shops start to close around 11:00 am, and the market closes for cleaning around 1:00 pm Tourists may visit the market daily between 5 a.m. and 6:15 am and watch from a designated area.

Giant scallops

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Ice maker

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Fresh tuna

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After we finished walking around the market we decided to get some fresh sushi for breakfast. Neither of us have had sushi this amazing before! It was so fresh, and so was the price tag, but it was so worth it.

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Krista ordered the Deluxe Sushi Set and I had the Donburi (tuna and salmon bowl)

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Tuna and salmon bowl, miso soup, mild fatty tuna, natural red meat tuna, white fish, salmon roe, snow crab, boiled prawn, fresh clam, sweet sea eel, sweet egg omelette, hikarimono.

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It was definitely the best sushi we have ever had! If you are a seafood lover and in Tokyo, I definitely recommend getting up early for a sushi breakfast!

Short video of the market (if you're viewing from email, click here to watch)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chuseok at iSponge

Chuseok 추석 is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday in Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Like many other harvest festivals, it is held around the Autumn Equinox. As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food.

This holiday is similar to Thanksgiving in North America, and like our holiday at home, Koreans enjoy copious amounts of food with their families during this holiday. One of the traditional foods prepared is Songpyeon 송편, a crescent-shaped rice cake which is steamed upon pine needles.

At school on the last day before the holiday, all the morning kindergartners made Songpyeon together. Another tradition is to wear a Hanbok, the traditional Korean dress. It is often characterized by vibrant colors and simple lines without pockets. Although the term literally means "Korean clothing", hanbok today often refers specifically to hanbok of Joseon Dynasty and is worn as semi-formal or formal wear during traditional festivals and celebrations. Modern hanbok does not exactly follow the actual style as worn in Joseon dynasty since it went through some major changes during the twentieth century for practical reasons. Our director brought a hanbok for all of the teachers to wear.

Krista and I in a hanbok. The pants tie up high above the waist and bunch up, so my stomach is really not that big :)

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Amy, Krista, Jon and Joe (our Korean co-teachers)

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David, Jon and Kelly. These are my two kindergarten students. They are 7 years old Korean age, so about 6 or so Western age.

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Christopher, Alex, David, Seung Uk, Jade (in the back), Danny and Kelly.

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Krista, Christopher, Alex, Seung Uk, Jade, Danny and Amy. Krista’s kindergarten class, they are 6 years old Korean age.

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Jon, David, Kelly and Joe.

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Jade making Songpyeon, he is flattening the dough, first you roll it in a ball, then make a pocket with your thumb and flatten it out.

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Christopher making Songpyeon

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Alex making Songpyeon

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Jon and Kelly making Songpyeon, after you have a good pocket, you fill it with crushed sesame seeds, brown sugar and honey. After you fill it, you shape the dough into a half moon.

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Seung Uk making Songpyeon

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Krista and Christopher making Songpyeon

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Krista and Alex

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Christopher showing off some Songpyeon the class had made. It is said that if you make beautiful you will have a beautiful daughter. :)

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Christopher and Amy

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A variety of traditional folk games are also played during Chuseok such as Yutnori (pronounced yoot-nori) which involves the throwing/rolling of 4 sticks to move games pieces around a stitch cloth game board. It is actually a fun and interesting game.


The best part of Chuseok for us was the time of from work! Our director gave us all a few extra days of holiday, so Krista and I flew to Tokyo to stay with one of her old college friends for four nights. We should have pictures up soon!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


On Sunday afternoon Krista and I took a trip to Gwanghwamun 광화문 in Seoul to see the newly renovated plaza. We had read in the September issue of Seoul Magazine that this 3rd plaza had opened up August 1st and thought it would be nice to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather in downtown Seoul.

This is now one of three large plazas Seoul has to offer, after Seoul Plaza and Cheonggyecheon. It was named after the main gate of nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace and is located outside of Gwanghwamun Station, Line 5 and the gate (which is still currently under construction). It is also located in the middle of what was 16 lanes of traffic. The plaza is 30m wide by 550 meters long.

This plaza along with numerous other construction projects occurring in Seoul are part of a large marketing strategy to portray a new vibrant, but stylish image for Seoul and the country.

During the first week after construction approx 1 million people had visited the plaza. If you want a more detailed history, click here.

Aside from the plaza’s beauty, there is a bit of controversy surrounding the plaza. All of the plazas have space available for public demonstrations, but with all of the floral decorations, there is no room for such things, and many Seoulites are quite upset by this fact. Krista and I however really enjoyed our afternoon there.

“Haechi” – Symbol of Seoul

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Haechi, the symbol of Seoul, is an animal of “justice and integrity” that discerns good and evil. Haechi is an imaginary animal with divine power that protects by repelling disaster and brining “fortune and luck.”

Haechi has a horn on its head and a bell on its neck. It’s body is covered in scales, and it has wing-like feathers under its arms. It is the gaurdian animal of Seoul and can fly in the sky. It lives close to water in the summer and in the pine forest in winter. It is known to live mainly around Gwanghamun and Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul.

Currently, the logo and slogan of “Hi Seoul” has been used to promote the city. what do you think of the new branding?? You can post your comments at the bottom of this blog post!

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Below is a statue of Yi Sun-sin 이순신 (April 28, 1545 – December 16, 1598) was a Korean naval commander noted for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) during the Joseon Dynasty.

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Along each side of the plaza are flower benches with flower displays built in and even speakers playing classical music.

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We snapped a picture of the plaza staff’s flower cart as well as them planting. A lot of work went in to planting the 200,000+ flowers!

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There is a light stream on each side of the plaza with engravings of each year from about the 1400’s, and here you can see two men scrubbing the tiles clean.

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Green Haechi lawn statue, you can see the US Embassy in the background.

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A little bit of extra history for you: One of the major benefits of the new plaza is that it helps correct the damage done to the downtown area’s basic orientation under Japanese colonial rule. When Seoul was made the capital of the Joseon kingdom, the main axis of the city ran from Mt. Bugaksan to the Shinto shrine they built on Mt. Namsan. When the restoration work on Gwanghwamun is completed, the traditional axis will be restored. –Robert Koehler, Seoul Tour and Culture

The 2009 Seoul International Drama awards had a display at the plaza as well. SBS had a few TV sets there to promote the various dramas they have running.

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One drama they have is a horror, we took this pic inside one of their sets.

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We left Gwanghwamun and walked a few blocks towards city hall and came across some kind of H.O.T pepper festival. There were various different kinds of peppers in all shapes, sizes and colours.

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Two arches covered designed with red peppers

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Aren’t we HOT?

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We wrote on a red pepper in Korean, it translates to Jon + Krista Forever. Yes, cheesy, but our Korean vocabulary is not that extensive!

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