Sunday, 20 January 2013

Day 1 in Beijing

I'm very grateful that my job takes me all over the world because every trip is an eye opener. We probably picked the worst time to visit Beijing when smog blanketed most of the city. Despite the hazardous levels of air pollution, life for the locals went on like clockwork. Most of the city folks have grown up in the choking environment, they've never seen blue skies all their lives.
I felt especially sorry for our Chinese associate who had just given birth to a baby boy four months ago. As a mother, she gives the kid the best she possibly can. We shadowed her for a day and couldn't believe how impossibly hectic her schedule is. In between meetings in the city, she rushes home to breastfeed her child, grabs a healthy home cooked meal and dashes off again for another appointment. A typical day (even on Sunday) for her doesn't end until about 10pm yet she's unbelievably energetic and good tempered. 

Beijingers like her are wary about what they eat in a country regularly hit with food safety scandals. She grows her own organic food in her sprawling backyard and greenhouse.The sad part is while she can
control what she eats, there is nothing much she can do about the poor air quality.
Walking towards the greenhouse.
Pet dog.
Home grown pea shoots.

She offered to buy us lunch at a restaurant nearby but we were more than happy to share her humble lunch of vegetable dumplings, hard boiled eggs and soup. For us, eating hot dumplings on a cold day was such a satisfying experience.

It was back to work in the city after a quick lunch before returning home to feed her baby in the evening. After we wrapped up our discussion for the day, she insisted on buying us dinner. We tried our best to decline but relented finally as we did not want to appear rude to our gracious host.

We had a nice dinner at Sunny Snacks which is popular with the locals. The irony is, unless something is done to control the pollution, it will never be sunny in Beijing. I sincerely wish her child will grow up in a smog-free Beijing where the sky is blue and sun is shinning every day.
Cucumber salad.


Potato salad.

Cold gelatin pork.

Fried noodles.

Rice porridge flavoured with lotus leaf.


La-mien with pork.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Off to Beijing

I'm leaving for Beijing tonight, not for leisure but for work. I've heard lots of good things about Beijing, like the Peking duck, Forbidden City and how huge Tiananmen Square really is.

But as air pollution reach record highs, I wonder if I would even dare to venture out into the streets at all. The city is suffering its coldest winter in nearly three decades, leading people to turn up their heat mostly by burning more polluting coal. It sounds like the worst time to be there.

I get dizzy just looking at the air quality index with readings well into the 700s on a 0-500 scale. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous. I'm bringing my warmest winter wear and face masks. Wish me luck.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Gamcheon Village in Busan

In my line of business, we've always known Busan as one of the busiest seasports in the world.When EY suggested going to Busan for a couple of days, I was rather thrilled though I had no idea what to expect besides shipping vessels and seafood.
It turned out to be the highlight of my trip. I became quite enamoured with this port city after visiting the picturesque Gamcheon Village perched atop a hill overlooking the city and the sea. I'm sure we would appreciate it better when the weather is warmer. Winters in Busan are cold but still milder than the rest of South Korea. However the temperatures were at a record low during our visit and it snowed unexpectedly the day we left.
 I'm rather busy at the moment to blog about Gamcheon Culture Village but this girl does a really good job here. She has some great photos if the village in her blog post too.

Meanwhile, please enjoy the photos taken using my phone camera during our visit.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Eating in Korea

Many people have the misconception that the diet in Korea is limited to kimchi and spicy meat. There is such a huge variety of food in Seoul city, one will be spoilt for choice. If you're not into Korean food, there are plenty of cafes selling sandwiches and western food. I spotted so many Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf outlets, I think the Koreans really love their coffee.

There are plenty of other local cafes too (which we prefer) which serves good coffee and breakfast.
 During winter, having a hot meal of ginseng chicken is most satisfying. It warms the body up though we have learned that the moment you step out of the toasty restaurant into the cold, all the warmth in the stomach disappears almost immediately. I wonder how the locals survive their cold winters!
The Koreans eat raw fish and meat which they call 'hoe'. It is assumed that the tradition of eating hoe was introduced from China to Korea during the early Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC-668 AD). Here, the sliced fish is usually dipped in a sweet sauce and then wrapped in sesame leaf. I found the texture of the fish rather tough and chewy. The shellfish was worse. I'm not a fan of raw fish, so I couldn't appreciate this expensive platter at a dinner hosted by my business associates.
However, the Korean style beef tartare was surprisingly good. Served with thinly sliced pear, it had a very clean taste to it. In fact, the meat was smooth, well marinated with a springy texture making it very palatable. I was surprised to find myself enjoying raw beef.
The food kept coming at this fancy Korean restaurant called Jinsadaek. Our host wanted all the oversea guests to sample a large array of traditional food which is mostly meaty. I felt sorry for one Italian guy amongst us who is vegetarian. The only thing he could eat was the salad below. In the end, the restaurant prepared a vegetarian bibimbap for him. He had bibimbap for lunch too.
Thinly sliced beef with julienned leek.

Spicy octopus.

Sizzling beef on hotplate.

Dried fish that had been seasoned in a sweet sauce.

Raw crab - I didn't touch this but my Korean colleagues love it.

The meals in Korea normally end with a kimchi based soup.

50-12 Myeong-dong 2Ga, Chung-gu, Seoul
TEL : 82-2-774-9605

Other than the fancy business dinner, we sampled lots of local food in Seoul and Busan. CH wanted to try the sundae, the Korean blood sausage made using cow or pig's intestines stuffed with various things. It wasn't my favourite dish.
After a hard day's work, many Koreans unwind by going for beer and fried chicken. We saw groups of men and women in their office attires arriving quite late, probably looking for a place to keep warm after dinner. While waiting for our food to arrive, we were served a huge bowl of puff corn which was plain but strangely addictive.

We ordered two kinds of fried chicken. I like the garlic coated ones better and will eat this again when I return to Korea in future.
 Since we were there for dinner, we ordered the steamed egg, spicy top shell salad and kimchi stew as well.

We also spent two days in Busan which is the second largest metropolis after Seoul. Being a port city, the cuisine here is slightly different. We had the famous Busan waeji gukbap (pork soup rice) upon arrival.
Located at the southeastern-most tip of Korean peninsula, Busan has the largest beach and longest river in Korea, hence it is famous for seafood. There are street-side stalls selling fried fish and spicy pig skin.
During the Korean War, Busan was the biggest refugee destination on the peninsula. People from all regions of Korea came there. Some of these refugees stayed and adapted and adjusted the recipes of their local specialties.

While looking for somewhere to have a quick lunch before heading back to Seoul, we came across a 40-year old Chinese restaurant near the train station. Since it has been around for so long, the food must be good. The dumplings did not disappoint in price (5,000 won -around $5- for a tray of 10 pieces) and taste. We rounded the meal with spicy seafood stew.
 Our favourite snack in Busan was the hoddeok, a pancake filled with cinnamon brown sugar. The ones in Busan are special because they have a generous stuffing of mixed nuts in them. Each day, we joined the long lines just to get our hands on these freshly fried yummy pancakes. Oh, I miss my hoddeok!