Monday, January 23, 2012

Schezuan Hot Pot Adventure

Happy Lunar New Years everyone! Lunar New Years (best known throughout the world as "Chinese New Year") goes by the name of 설날 (Seollal) here in Korea and is culturally much more important than the solar new year celebrated by most of the west.

It is mostly a family holiday for most Koreans, but foreigners like it too because we don't have to work! The problem is there isn't too much going on (it would be sort of like going out on the town on Christmas), so this entry is about a "happy accident" we had while trying to eat at a popular sushi restaurant on the holiday.

We had met up with another couple (an American and a Korean) in the Sincheon area of Seoul (near Jamsil) and began our search for Sushi Nori, a very nice sushi roll restaurant by Seoul's standards. But alas! It was closed for the holiday! With limited options and pushed for a quick decision by the -10 C degree temperature, we jumped at our friend's suggestion of Chinese lamb "shabu shabu", or "hot pot" restaurant. Shabu shabu is actually the Japanese take on thewe thought we understood what we were getting ourselves into. It turned out this was more of an authentic hot pot and we were in for a little surprise.

We ordered the basic hot pot and out came a fairly large pot and a portable gas stove. The pot was divided into two different sections down the middle and in each section was a different kind of broth, one with seafood and green onion. The other side we weren't so sure. It was a deep red and had a big metal mesh ball floating in it filled with an unknown substance (sort like a giant tea ball). Oh, and chiles, lots of chiles. At first taste we noticed a sort of strange taste but we carried on in normal hot pot fashion by adding the vegetables and slowly dipping in the thin slices of frozen lamb. The seafood broth was quite nice and palatable, but as time went on, all of us started experiencing a strange sensation with the red broth. At first we thought it was just spicy, so we took out all of the dried chiles that were floating on top. But as it continued to boil, the sensation became more intense - it felt sort of like the broth had tannin in it, the sensation you get when drinking dry red wine, but it was also very different as there was also a slight numbing sensation. At that point we decided to withdraw the mystery ball but the damage was done and we sort of just avoided with red broth from that point out.

Well, after dinner we did a little research and discovered the culprit. The contents of the mystery ball was sichuan pepper, or "flower pepper". While not technically a pepper, it is used a lot in schezuan style cooking. Here is the wikipedia description of their effect: "they
produce a strange tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or of a mild electrical current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to the tongue). Sanshools appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once to induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive. So theoretically may cause a kind of general neurological confusion."

So, while it did sort of surprise us, we would consider visiting such a restaurant again armed with our new knowledge of what we had. Game plan for next time: remove the flower pepper immediately and put all vegetables into the seafood broth.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Christmas 2011

One of the nice things about having a tiny apartment is that it's easy to decorate!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Give the bus drivers a break!

Riding a bus in Seoul can be a terrifying experiences. Most bus drivers here drive like taxi drivers. They speed up to get to the next bus stop, they cut off cars, make jack rabbit stops and starts and creep up on cars that are in the way and then honk their horns. If you don't have a seat on a bus within 3 seconds of stepping on you had better be holding onto something or you will fall over. It's a ride. A wild ride. In fact, this experience is so universal that a very clever man made a cute comic about it here.

Perhaps we've mentioned before though that Koreans work long hours so I imagine it's the same for the bus drivers. I'm guessing that they work longer than 8 hour shifts, that they get few breaks and that the job quickly gets frustrating. This is my assumption. I'll have to ask around. One of the more novel things about riding a bus is Seoul is the driver smoke break. Occasionally, as with any big city, there will be a traffic light where you will have to wait 5 minutes for it to cycle around. When this happens, it's not uncommon to see the bus driver turn the bus off and step outside for a cigarrette while they wait for the light to come around to them. If you look at the picture below, you will see the green bus. If you look closely, you'll notice the bus driver standing in front of the bus smoking a cigarette.He isn't parked there. He's in a traffic lane. You might also notice that traffic is still flowing. Also, the bus is full of people. I'm not certain why I find the so hilarious. It makes sense, driving a bus is stressful, and I'd rather my driver take a five minute smoke break than using the bus to run down pedestrians. But for me, it's funny to see.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A foray into "Alternative Medicine"

As some of you know, Jamie and I are planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail next year. In preparation for that we have both been exercising and trying to be a bit more healthy. Collectively, we've lost 50 pounds. We're pretty proud. Through the process of exercising however, Shannon has been having some low level hip joint soreness. Not wanting to create any long term damage and just make sure that everything is OK, she went to our local joint doctor. This lady has, on many occasions, helped us through sprained ankles, knee pain, back and shoulder pain-a variety of things. We went to her for this hip issue. She took some x-rays and told Shannon, "oh! this is very serious! you need surgery!" She then offered up these two random therapies that haven't really been seriously explored or tested. Neither of which would cause any serious harm but both of which would cause MORE pain and one included a shot INTO my joint. (cost would be around $80 each time and she wanted me to go weekly for a little more than a month) .

Having gone to her for very minor soreness (and I mean like a '1' on that little doctor chart of pain), Shannon was taken aback and really upset by what the doctor said. SO, we decided to try the general hospital in our area, Asan Medical. She went to the international clinic and talked to the General Practitioner. She said she'd have a radiologist look at my X-rays (after I re-took them at Asan) and sent me to the rehabilitative specialist. The next day, I went to the rehabilitation specialist who said the radiologist said there is some calcification and tearing in the joint but neither he nor the radiologist can tell if it's serious, so he sent me up the line to the Orthopedic Surgeon. Currently I'm waiting on my appointment with the surgeon (scheduled on January 26th).

After losing faith that anyone knows what they're talking about and deciding to see the surgeon but ignore whatever advice he gives me I talked to a friend who had some great success managing low back pain at an Alternative Medicine Clinic.

He suggested Jaseng Clinic in Apgujeong (a ritzy area about an hour away from us). I said, OK. Really, what do I have to lose.

The clinic is huge. It consists of four buildings of clinics, various research facilities and, luckily for me-the only foreigner practicing alternative medicine in Korea, Dr. Royer. I have my third appointment this coming Wednesday. I go for a Chuna Treatment (similar to but different from regular chiropractic) and acupuncture. Costs me $38 each time. Dr Royer also wanted to give me a "herbal injection" but as I'm already at the limits of my belief and I'm here to avoid injections I opted out of that. Here's my experience so far: It hasn't hurt and it hasn't hindered. I will say that I told him of some low back pain after walking for any length of time. He "treated" me for that and after my 3 hour walk home I had no pain. Coincidence? You decide.
Anyway, I'll continue to visit him until I leave Korea. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

P.S. We're still planning to hike the Appalachian Trail.