Archive | September, 2011

Cambodia – A Backward Glance at a Terrible Past

26 Sep

GOOD NEWS

I’ve finally defeated the Kuala Lumpur cold that had me out for the count all of last week (ugh!) and now I’m ready to Cambodify you.

BAD NEWS

Before sharing all the detailed glories and delights of our Cambodian adventures, I feel compelled to write a short post about all that I’ve learned about Cambodia’s history during our trip – and it’s beyond depressing.  Most of you probably know about this country’s terrible past under the control of the Khmer Rouge, but I, personally, didn’t know enough, and visiting Cambodia opened my eyes to a sadness and a hopefulness that I had never experienced before.  I want to make sure to convey these feelings to you.

So, let me just start off by saying that the most important feeling I have about Cambodia is LOVE.  The country just bursts with beauty – the children…

the landscape…

and the faith…

they simply left me breathless.

But, just as beautiful as Cambodia is, it is also extremely hard-  the poverty is almost unbearable, staring you straight in the face as a reminder of the country’s dark history.

There is no way to travel through Cambodia without feeling and seeing the vestiges of its bloody past.  The Cambodian genocide still sits on the surface of so many daily interactions, making the country feel raw, and yet, in some twisted way, even more remarkable for all it has overcome.

***

The following is a very short overview of a tragic history.  This summary is by no means comprehensive (and it does NOT do Cambodia’s history justice), but I hope it reminds you/makes you think about/drives you to learn more about a nation that is still recovering from one of the world’s bloodiest revolutions.

In 1970, the conflict in Vietnam extended over to Cambodia, and the country broke out in a violent civil war.  Cambodia was split into two, with the North Vietnamese & their Cambodian allies, the Khmer Rouge, controlling the countryside, and the Republican Government of Lon Nol controlling most of the towns.

On April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, took over Phnom Penh and seized power over Cambodia.   The Khmer Rouge’s goal was to transform Cambodia into an agrarian-based communist society, and they, therefore, forced the majority of the country into agricultural slavery.

“Within days of the Khmer Rouge coming to power, the entire population of the capital, including the sick, elderly and infirm, was forced to march out to the countryside [to undertake agricultural work].  Disobedience of any sort often brought immediate execution.  The advent of the Khmer Rouge rule was proclaimed Year Zero.  Currency was abolished and postal services were halted.  The country was cut off from the outside of the world” (Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia Laos & the Greater Mekong, page 46).

The Khmer Rough deprived Cambodians of their basic rights.  They abolished normal schooling, private property, religious practices, and traditional Cambodian (Khmer) culture.  Even family relationships were heavily controlled, “People were forbidden to show even the slightest affection, humor or pity. The Khmer Rouge asked all Cambodians to believe, obey and respect only [the Khmer Rouge’s political party], which was to be everyone’s mother and father.” (Cambodia Tribunal)

During the next four years, thousands of Cambodians were executed by the Khmer Rouge, including most of the country’s educated people (doctors, lawyers, teachers, ANYONE with an education) because they were seen as a threat to the new communist regime.  Thousands more died of famine or disease as they slaved in the rice fields or the Khmer Rouge work camps.  Overall, it is estimated that two million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979.

Two million people died.  And this happened only 36 years ago.  It’s almost too crazy to grasp.

In December of 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia after repeated attacks by the Khmer Rouge on Vietnamese border villages.  They were successful in capturing Phnom Penh and driving the Khmer Rouge from power.

Today, Cambodia is still struggling to overcome its years of conflict, but is on the road to recovery.  If you are interested in learning more about Cambodia in the 1970s, I’d highly recommend the tough (true) story of Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father and the movie, The Killing Feilds.  If you feel compelled to help from across the sea, use those extra $20 in your wallet to donate through Kiva.org directly to a Cambodian in need.

And if you don’t want to do anything after reading this post, I’m still happy you read this far.

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Kuala Lumpur By Night – It’s Not About What You See, It’s About What I Ate

21 Sep

…And we’re back…

Hey lovelies, sorry about the long break, but I’m back in Seoul after a phenomenal vacation to Kuala Lumpur, Cambodia & Laos and I’m ready to tell ALL (if you are willing to listen read).

First, I’ll spin you guys around the world to a little (huge) city called, Kuala Lumpur.

Just in case, Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, with a population of about 1.6 million people (largely comprised of Malays, Chinese & Indians), and, most importantly, home to over 66 shopping malls!  Unfortunately, G doesn’t really condone mall-ing on vacation (even though I have been whispering, “Shop with me! Shop with me!” into his ear every night after he falls asleep), so I didn’t get to revel in the shopping madness of Malaysia…I know, I feel bad for me too….but it’s still a great fact for those of you who are heading there soon.

photo credit: http://www.etawau.com

Where was I?  I was in fantasy land where I was the mayor.  Anyway, G and I planned on spending a full day in Kuala Lumpur, frolicking around the many temples and mosques, and then merrily & lackadaisically catching our connecting flight to Cambodia the next morning…too bad things didn’t exactly work out that way.

When did we go wrong?  Oh, just the second we stepped off the airplane.  Instead of taking the subway from the airport to our hostel, we decided to take a direct bus into town.  Big mistake.  HUGE.

First of all, KL has horrendous traffic, so the 45 minute ride took over 2 hours, AND by some mean, mean, twist of fate, G and I were seated (LIE: I chose our bus seats) under the central air conditioning vents, which were “broken open” and blew us away with subzero winds.

It was hell freezing over in the hottest of climates.  We sat & froze, sat & froze, sat & froze.  Eventually, the froze became so unbearable that we pulled out all our neatly packed clothing and sat huddled under our backpacks for warmth.

(Please note: we are the ONLY people on the bus freezing our butts off)

Two things happened after I ice-picked my way off of that ski bus:

(1) For the rest of our trip, I never ONCE complained about the heat.  And it was HOT out there.

(2) The insane ice conditioning on the bus caused me to have a terrible cold, which I have yet to recover from.  Stupid bus.

Okay so I’m going to fast forward through the part where we defrosted, got lost on the way to the hostel, and somehow wound up in a Hindu temple, asking for directions during some type of colorful festival…

..and I’ll get right to the point of most of my blog posts: FOOD.

Well, by the time G & I found our hostel, you can only imagine the appetite we had worked up.   (Dosh, just stop making fun of me. Stop.)  So, we dropped off our bags and headed straight for Jalan Alor, also known as- street food paradise.

Jalan Alor is a giant open-air hawking street, crowded with hungry customers and tons of food options.  Basically, it’s like a grittier and tastier version of heaven (but that’s just my assumption).  G and I strolled around the many restaurants and carts, trying to optimize our first bite in KL, and finally decided to just pull up a plastic chair & join the street-side party with 100 of our closest friends.

Our first meal (yes, we had many that night) was at Dragon Temple Restaurant, which was a mild success-ish.  Raw squid calamari and tilapia with red sauce pictured below.

Not feeling fully satisfied, we decided to add on, by scarfing down…

What?  A girl only leaves Korea so often, and you really have to take advantage of the kimchi-free meals!

The rest of the night was spent walking off our tummies, which would have taken 6 weeks to achieve in full.  But we were stuffed and happy and getting ourselves ready for the adventures awaiting us in Cambodia and Laos.

More to come…

This Week I Liked…(Things Earlier than Usual)

9 Sep

The first week of September has flown by, and so far, I’ve been able to keep my promise to myself to LIVE each day to the last drop.

In simple terms- Eat, Play, Love.

So, I’m doing an early post of “This Week I Liked…” because (a) there are already SO many things I’d like to share with you & (b) because, starting tomorrow, I’m taking a week-long blog holiday (blogiday?) for the Korean Thanksgiving vacation of Chusok.

**The true fan-ny pack!  This baby is keeping it cool, while pops is keeping it real with this ultra-chill look.  (Wish someone would carry me around in one of these!)

*A lovely definition of “home,” from the glamorous & glitzy blog, The Glitter Guide.

*I can’t stop looking at this painting (I just love me a portrait) found on the phenomenal “virtual gallery” of  The Jealous Curator.

(I’m sorry I don’t have direct links to these photos this week, my computer semi-crashed and my source information disappeared.  I’ll be better about it going forward.)

*B-zee.  The coolest & most talkative cat I know.

*Gorgeous abalone shells gifted to me by the owner of our favorite fish market restaurant.  (I’ve been trying to de-stink them ever since! Any suggestions?)

*Celebrating New York Fashion Week from Seoul (sigh) with this Lanvin ad campaign that had me smiling from ear to ear.  Watch it and tell me what you think.

Have a peaceful and relaxing Chusok vacation- to all my Korean & expat friends!

Lemony Chickpea Stir-fry

8 Sep

Eureka!

I’ve found them – chickpeas in Seoul!

Spotted at High Steet Market in Itaewon.

To celebrate the discovery of my long-lost pantry staple, I decided to make one of my favorite chickpea dishes – Lemony Chickpea Stir-fry, using chickpeas (obvio), kale, zucchini, tofu (optional) and lemon.

I found this recipe 2 years ago, on the amazing blog, 101 Cookbooks, and I haven’t stopped making it since.  Like all the recipes I enjoy, this ultra healthy stir-fry is simple, quick, and really highlights the natural flavors of the ingredients.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are full of protein, fiber and antioxidants (as well as tons of other nutrients), making them a true super-food and an excellent meat substitute.  I find chickpeas delicious in any way, shape or form, but stir-frying them with very little olive oil helps bring out their delicious nutlike & buttery taste.  Adding-in the kale and zucchini to the mix makes for a perfectly flavorful and nutritious meal.

This dish does the body good.

P.S.  if you have a chickpea recipe you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

***

INGREDIENTS:

2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
1 Small onion
1 Cup cooked chickpeas (using 1 can of chickpeas is perfectly fine, just make sure to wash them well)
8 Ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 Cup of chopped kale
2 Small zucchinis, chopped
Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon

PREPARATION:

(1) Heat 1 tablespoon of  olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

(2) Stir in about a teaspoon of salt, the chopped onion, and chickpeas.

(3) Saute until the chickpeas are deeply golden and crusty.  This may take up to 15 minutes depending on your stove.  Luckily, you can’t go wrong with stir-fying this mix as long as nothing starts to burn.

During this stir-frying time, I usually cut up my tofu, kale and zucchini, while occassionally mixing the chickpeas

(4) Optional: Stir in the tofu and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the tofu is heated through.

(5) Stir in the kale and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

(6) Remove everything from the skillet onto a large plate and set aside.

(7) In the same skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, add the zucchini and saute for 2 -3 minutes, until it starts to deepen in color.

(8) Add the chickpea mixture back to the skillet, mix everything together and remove from heat.

(9) Stir in the lemon juice and zest, taste, and season with a bit more salt if needed.

Serves 2 – 4

Hiking Dobongsan in Bukhansan National Park

6 Sep

“Insanity Workout” has taken on a whole new meaning…

Say hello to Dobongsan (Mt. Dobong)!

The hike up Mt. Dobong in Bukhansan National Park is not for the faint of heart nor for the weak of thighs – this trail is TOUGH!

Okay, so maybe my friends and I accidentally took the dangerous route across the mountain ridge because we were too lazy to Google-Translate the warning sign, which probably read: “WALK THIS WAY ONLY IF YOU’RE AN OLYMPIC DECATHLETE, ONE OF THOSE AMAZING OLD KOREAN LADIES IN HOT HIKING GEAR OR A FOREIGNER WHO CAN’T READ KOREAN AND PROBABLY WISHES THEY COULD RIGHT NOW.” 

But, aside from the slight brush with death, hiking Dobongsan was unbelievably rewarding thanks to the exhilarating views and the full-body workout.

**Read directions on how to avoid the scary part of the trail at the bottom of the post**

I suppose I should start from the beginning, back when I didn’t know the true definition of FEAR:

Two of my hikerific girlfriends planned a “nothing out of the ordinary” hike up to Jaunbong, one of the peaks of Dobongsan, and invited me to come along.

At the time, they didn’t know how much I like to sing while hiking…so, I’m not too sure I’ll be invited again.

At first, everything seemed normal (for Korea, anyway).  We took the subway to the trail-head (hiking is so wonderfully accessible in Seoul), where we met up with the TONS of elderly Korean hikers (dressed to the activewear 9’s) – ready to skip up the mountain.

The trail to Jaunbong started-off with a light ascent along a beautiful river & gradually progressed into a fairly steep incline, paved with large granite steps.

This rather enjoyable climb took us approximately 1 hour.

Towards the peak, the trail stopped being a trail – yes, that is the best way I can describe it– and we proceeded to scramble up a seemingly vertical pile of rocks until we reached the top.

Nothing to worry about, I used both my hands and feet to reach the peak.

After about 30 minutes of climbing on all fours, we reached Jaunbong peak, and then everything was illuminated.

WOWZA!

And that is when things got crazy.

In order to reach the trail down the mountain, we had to traverse the insanely steep Podae Ridge using ropes, railings, and sheer Man Versus Wild fight to survive.

We were scared out of our minds.

We couldn’t take any photos of the ridge because we were holding onto a freaking rope for dear life (survival > pics for blog), but I managed to find an image on the interwebs, below, to give you a mental picture.

Yeah, we did that with a little help from our friends…our Korean hiker friends.

These amazing hikers, who may or may not have been 50+ years old, took pity on us three hysteric foreign girls & acted as our spotters while we rappelled down the mountain.

Here’s a few pictures of us after the worst was over…

It was only after we made it safely to the other side of the Podae Ridge and reached Podae Peak, when we realized that there is actually a “happy-go-lucky, skip and hold hands” trail-equivalent circumventing the mountain ridge that doesn’t require heart attacks.

Ah, the perils of foreign-ness & not reading Korean warning signs.

Anyway, by the time we reached safety, we were so emotionally and physically drained, that all we cared about was getting down the mountain.  So, we veered onto the Minchosaem (Spring) trail, which ended up being a calm and gorgeous descent down a dry stream bed.

It was like 2 hours of downhill therapy.

When we finally reached the end of the trail and the bottom of the mountain, we rewarded ourselves with hugs, high-fives and barley bibimpab.

(What? Did you really think I could go 1 post without talking about food?)

We had survived Dobongsan…

much like the thousands of people who hiked this trail before us.

***

Directions

One of the great things about hiking Dobongsan is that the trail-head is conveniently located next to the Dobongsan Subway Station (Line 1, Exit #1).

From the station, cross the street and walk through the food stalls and hiking equipment shops to the trail-head (I know this sounds vague, but you really just need to follow the hoards of Korean hikers to the trail)

At the entrance to the park, make sure to get a map from the information booth.

Hike up the mountain, following signs for Jaunbong, one of Dobongsan’s peaks.

Hiking to the peak should take between 1.5-2 hours

After hiking to the peak, you will have to walk across the Podae Ridgeline to go back down the mountain (unless you want to retrace your steps & go down the same way you came up).

WARNING:  If you do not want to take the scary route across the mountain ridge, which requires you to use ropes and railings (and lots of upper body strength), make sure to heed the signs.  There will be a sign (with two little images of bears) posted where the two trails diverge, one trail will be marked with a RED line (this is the crazy trail) and the other trail will be marked with a GREEN line (the optimal route for the less sadistic).  Do watch this video for clarification  (or just fast forward the video to minute 2:33)

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

After walking the ridge and reaching Podae Peak, you have a few trails leading to the bottom of the mountain.  We, chose to take the Minchosaem (Spring) Trail down, which was a beautiful and rather easy descent.

The trail will lead you directly to the Wondobong Park Information booth, where you can ask for directions to the Mangwolsa Subway Station (or just go down past the information booth, through the few restaurants, and veer left.  Continue downhill until you reach the subway)

This Week I Liked

5 Sep

Saw this activewear knock-off gem on the way to a hike this week…made me giggle.

Feeling the need to reiterate & re-demonstrate that Koreans are the best-dressed hikers in the world.

Looked out of our living room window last night and noticed that my mum’s name was on a neon sign on the neighboring apartment.  Lavu Sim.

Lindt, in all its glory, in all its cocoa percentages – transported all the way from the Americas.

A well-accessorized baby on the streets of Seoul.  Please note the leg-warmers, scarf, polka dot pants and hair clip.

Sweet ceramic bird royalty, spotted and hearted at a cafe.

Guitar shop by my house.

Caprese Sandwich at Deli Heinzburg on Garosu Gil, one of my favorite sandwich spots.

Hiking Mt. Gwanaksan

4 Sep

Goodbye rainy summer & hello my beloved fall!

We meet at last.

I don’t know about you, but my summer seemed to fly by (typhoons and all), and as I type this, I’m honestly having a hard time believing that it’s already September.

Last month seems like a blur of activities: moving, teaching, Tokyoing, G’s never-ending business tripping, interviewing…  I didn’t let myself breathe deeply enough.

But, September is going to be different.  My goal for this month is to live presently every day & be thankful every day.

***

G must have been reading my overly-yogaed-bizarrely-optimistic-mind because out-of-le-blue, he proposed a Saturday morning hike at Gwanaksan.

G planning a hike?  Now THAT is something to smile about – September is already off to a good start!

So, we woke up early (Huge weekend accomplishment for us!) & donned our lightest (and obviously shortest) hiking gear, and headed to…

our favorite bakery!

What?  Every hike, no matter how short, is a perfect excuse to carb-load.

Yum.

After our decadent breakfast, we took a short subway ride to one of the many trail-heads of Gwanaksan.

 -For directions, scroll to the bottom of post-

Yes, you read correctly, a subway stop near the hiking trail.

Unlike most cities, hiking in Seoul is extremely accessible – even for those without cars – because Koreans absolutely LOVE to hike.

So, we got to the trail pretty easily – sun was shining, weather was sweet…

and as G and I stair-mastered our way up the mountain (the fist 1/2 of the hike was entirely uphill), we were rewarded with beautiful scenic views

both of the mountain & of Korean hiking fashion.

Welcome to the land of cutting-edge hiking outfits.

Neon sweat-wicking clothes, the newest hiking shoes, ski poles, and serious hiking/gardening gloves – and they all match perfectly.

B.T.W. I have NO IDEA how people were wearing long sleeved hiking gear (no joke, at one point we saw a man in a North Face ski jacket) because it was a steaming 33° and G & I were sweating like animals.

No, really, how were we the only two people dripping sweat on this mountain!?

…This obviously gave me a lot to think about while hiking…

Embarrassingly enough, I was so completely consumed by this sweating conundrum that I almost didn’t notice the small Buddhist temple perched atop the mountainside.

(This temple is actually called the Yeonjuam Hermitage, and was founded in 677 AD by the Ven.)

Nothing like coming face to face with a golden Buddha to clean your mind of ridiculous sweaty thoughts.

Not to shabby for a mid-hike pause & prayer.

Talk about hitting my goals for the month!

I spent the rest of the hike silently amazed by the serenity of Gwanaksan…

okay, so maybe I was also lightly complaining about my aching grandma knees…

but mostly I was just enjoying the sweet green escape from the city & looking forward to the next time Gwanaksan & I meet again

***

Directions:

Take subway to Gwacheon Station (Line 4, exit#7)

Walk straight out of exit #7 & take a LEFT at the main intersection where the walk-way ends (at which point you cannot continue forward, only right or left).

Follow the road until you see a big brown side on your right- this is the entrance to the mountain.

At this point, there are two paths up the mountain, and we took Trail #1 which is shorter, well marked and has stairs, bridges, and ropes.  Although there are no signs distinguishing between the two trails (making it a bit puzzling for foreigners), Trail #1 starts off near a small parking lot and near a group of Korean restaurants.

For fast walkers, the hike up should take about 1hr & 45min.

Going down the mountain is a bit of an experiment, we followed signs for Sadang Station (사당역) and ended up on a beautiful, but rocky path down, which eventually merged with our original trail.

It took us about 1hr to reach the bottom.