Wednesday, May 18, 2011

They come in all sizes: a wishbone the size of a quarter

After eight months, I have finally made it full circle and am following up on my comparison of chicken in the States in Russia and FINALLY in Korea. While I have been eating chicken for eight months, and more than likely I bought my first whole chicken after less than a month of being here, my observation comes about mainly because I found a wishbone for the first time in my life.

Wishbones bring a certain air of nostalgia with them (for me anyway).

I remember playing tug-of-war with my sister over the wishbone as a kid.

After the chicken was cut into parts, we would wait, eagerly anticipating that fateful moment which would determine whose wish came true. Of course, because the wishbone had to dry and get brittle, so it would break and not bend, usually by the time it was dry enough, we had forgotten about it.

But eventually, one evening, after dinner and after the dishes were finished, someone would find the dried-out, ripe wishbone on the window seal behind the sink. Suddenly, we would remember that we had a potential wish coming.

My sister would grab one side of the wishbone, and I would grab the other. Then, we would pull. Most of the time this was a quick process. The wishbone would snap in two. As a result, one of us would get the larger part as well as our wish, but when we were very young or if the wishbone came from a particularly hearty chicken or we didn’t wait quite long enough, it could be a struggle.

Occasionally, wishes must be earned.

Despite the nostalgia, many of my wishbone memories involve wishing and tug-of-war, not the wishbone directly after it came out of the chicken. I think some part of me knew it was like a human’s collarbone, and it would be located at the top of the breast. Yet, I had never deliberately looked for the wishbone. I realized for the first time the other day, that I had never found one AND I wasn’t one hundred percent certain of its location. My theory, and I was right, was that I usually cut it in half in the process of extracting the breast meat.

Today, tired of eating eggs and not quite in the mood to splurge on beef as I did, for the first time, last Friday, I eyed the chicken.

In the supermarket near my apartment there is a whole section for chicken. Categorized shelves display different sizes, cuts, and seasonings. Despite myriad options, or perhaps because of them, I grabbed the least expensive chicken. When I picked it up, I realized, even for Russian chicken standards this one would be considered small. Yet, it sat on the shelf next to enormous beast chicken and even rooster!

Thinking I had picked a decent chicken, I got it home, and started cutting it apart. Unfortunately, small does not mean active. Chicken in Korea comes in literally all shapes, sizes, and fat contents. Perhaps if I could understand the Korean I can sound out, then I would be able to discern between sedentary chickens and chickens who got to “run around like chickens with their heads cut off”.

As I cut the chicken, I remembered that I wanted to find the wishbone and searched briefly before finding it. Unless my memory of wishbones is faulty, I now have evidence for how small this chicken was. And in discovering the location of the wishbone, I now have an objective way to measure the size of chickens throughout the world …

Specimen 1: Chicken from MegaMart in Ulsan, Korea. Purchased 18 May 2011.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A deer? In Ulsan?: Ulsan Grand Park rediscovered

As a girl from Idaho, a fairly sparsely populated region of the world, I have certain expectations about what “nature” should be like. But travelling outside of my part of the States has proven that many of these expectations are unrealistic for the majority people living in or near big cities.

Taking my experiences, I previously had quite low expectations for nature in Korea. Nature and “wilderness” equaled a well beaten path, people not too far in front of or behind you, and wildlife that hardly ever showed its face … except magpies, pigeons, bugs, etc., that are used to the presence of humans. So, this morning brought me a pleasant surprise.

I woke up with an itch to get outside, lay on the beach, and draw. Unfortunately, the weather was not about to let that happen.

I woke up to hazy skies, a bit of wind, and about 16 degrees Celsius instead of the previous day’s 25. Disappointed, I dragged myself out of bed, and thought of alternative plans.

I could go to a coffee shop.

I could stay home.


Maybe I could go to the park?

Finally, I left the house and went to the bus stop. The first bus I saw made my decision for me. It was a bus that took me straight to the entrance of Ulsan’s Grand Park.

My plan? Go to the amphitheater in the park and draw.

When I arrived at the park, despite it being mostly empty, there was a couple walking in front of me with a similar idea … only they planned to have a picnic. They went directly to the location I had chosen in my mind.

Disappointed, but realizing it might be better, I headed off the paved path and into the woods. Not ten steps in, I passed a hiker, so I thought the experience would be as devoid of wildlife as my previous Korean ventures into the “woods.”

But another ten steps in, I startled a deer.

Stunned, I just stopped.

Looking up at the hill, I confirmed what I saw.

The deer, just as stunned, had stopped a bit up the hill.

A deer? In Ulsan? Wow.

My hopes were up, and I continued along the path.

Not two steps later, I heard and saw a woodpecker on a tree directly in front of me. After he caught sight of me, he moved behind the small tree, but he was curiously playing peek-a-boo. As much as I wanted to catch sight of him, he seemed to want to get a glimpse of me.

As I watched the woodpecker, a tufted eared squirrel started yelling obscenities and ran up a tree, while another across the way made a claim on the bark of a dead tree. Gnawing and scratching, tugging and pulling to collect bark … for what? I’m not sure.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris coreae, Photo © Tim Edelsten

I was amazed and blown away.

I had seen more wildlife in five minutes than I had in the eight months previous.

I realized that while I had been observing all of this occur around me, I hadn’t seen anyone else. Even more amazingly, this little haven was not far off the paved, overly-manicured park path.

It seems, weekday mornings are the best time to explore Korean “wilderness.”

I had ventured onto Grand Park’s hiking trails before, but on that trek I hadn’t seen any wildlife, aside from the usual bugs and magpies. It was a legitimate hike, but on a Sunday, the trail abounded with people.

I was annoyed by the old man walking behind me with a speaker blaring news. I grumbled to myself, “Haven’t you ever heard of headphones?!”

After being unable to outrun the sound, I slowed to let the man pass and try to get some quiet and hear some birds.

But I ran into another person and another.

And another.

Yes, I am still in Korea.

There was no tricking myself that Sunday.

This morning was different, though brief. The forest was quiet and filled with the racket of wildlife.

As I was leaving, I heard a rustle in the bushes and turned to see a green snake, with a splash of red. As I stopped and turned, another deer bolted into the forest, and I heard a cuckoo call out, though it took me a minute to realize it.

While there was no way I could possibly belief myself to be in Idaho (the wildlife looked much too different, as did the greenery) my brief walk this morning was quite pleasant and incredibly convenient.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Shopping with my temporary, surrogate mom, the day before Mother’s Day

As the weather warms up here in Ulsan, it remains unpredictable. Like that Katy Perry song, it’s hot then it’s cold, but late spring has brought the desire to go shopping and make some summer clothing purchases. Mostly uneventful and just like shopping anywhere else, barring the crazy club music booming from every other shop and competing for your attention, there was one exception.

Last weekend I successfully purchased my first pair of sunglasses …

Yes. First. In my life.

And yes, I’m 26.

Monday, I purchased a cute pair of sandals from Zara, my go to place for shoes when I get sick of looking at same, same, same.

And Saturday, I went shopping for shorts … again.

For some reason the shorts styles here are nuts. (This is also pretty normal that I don’t like the shorts styles that are popular. What’s wrong with some classics?)

Either, a) they are very Korean style in that they are high-waisted and flared;

OR b) they are huge, baggy cut-offs that are not flattering and look like you took your boyfriend’s holey, worn-out, work jeans and hacked them off.

So, shopping for a pair of shorts has been a chore.

After days, I finally found a pair I liked on the hanger. I grabbed a small and medium because I didn’t know what size to get. Like most shops in Korea, the sales lady hovered right behind me, but didn’t offer me any real opinion on size.

When I walked into the dressing room, I noticed that there was no mirror. I shrugged. No mirror is pretty par for the course in Korean shops. At least there's a dressing room. I put on the size small. They were a bit snug to get on, but they didn’t feel too small. Then, I stepped out of the dressing room to look in the mirror. They looked good. Again, snug, not too short, and cute. Sexy, even. Or so I thought.

I looked away from the mirror and up at the shop assistant. She had continued to hover, and in her loosely fitting, conservative, Korean style clothes, the look on her face told me she disapproved. I knew it. Even before she said, “Maybe you should try ‘M’.”

I looked at her in shock. Then looked back at the mirror and thought, “Yeah, I guess the sitting down test might strain the seams, and while they look good while I’m standing … hmm.”

So, reminded of what it was like shopping with my mother (when I was 9), I tried on the medium. After how hot the small made me feel, I was overall unimpressed with the medium. They really didn’t look bad, and yes, they would be more comfortable overall. But they weren’t hot.

The shop assistant, my mom in a Korean disguise, approved.

My mom’s words rang in my head, “Are they comfortable? Can you sit in them?”

Trying to brush these practical notions all aside, I went back in the dressing room and tried on the small again. Yes, they would be snug when I sat down. They might not be the most comfortable shorts, but I like them!

I got dressed in my clothes again.

I walked back to the rack where the shorts hung.

The color I wanted wasn’t in small.

I was stuck.

Do I insist on a small when the shop lady disapproves? She will have to go find them for me, and then, she might just lie.

Or should I just buy a medium?

I struggled, debating with myself and possibly muttering under my breath.

Then, indecisive, I left the store without making a purchase, pissed that it felt like I was shopping with someone who wanted to be my mom, but wasn’t, and knowing damn well that my actual mom would let me make my own decision because I’m 26 for crying out loud!

I wandered around a bit more.

I called a friend.

Then, I found the same style and “brand” of shorts at another shop. The sizes were a bit different … the small was much too small. The medium fit very nicely, but they didn’t have the color I wanted.

Frustrated with my search for shorts that had lasted more than a week, I gave in. I knew I wouldn’t find anything better for the same price, and I didn’t want to look anymore.

So before meeting some friends for lunch, I went back to the store with my mom in mind (the practical shopper) and bought the medium. I have yet to wear the shorts in public, but I plan on trying them out today.

I’m sure the medium will suit me just fine.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! Thanks for always helping me to second guess my purchases ;) and also, thank you for not being like an overbearing Korean mother!