Category Archives: East Asia

Adventurous Eats in South Korea

One of the best things about traveling and being in a foreign country is trying out new foods! Foods from around the world have become a big part of travel these days with unique cuisines or cultures around the world, and South Korea is quite unique itself. When one thinks of food from South Korea, the first thing that may come to mind is Korean barbecue or kimchi however there is so much more!

 

food-blog-image-1

Korean barbecue where you cook the meat and eat straight off the grill!

 

I’ve been studying abroad in South Korea for nearly 6 months now and have become accustomed to the cuisine here. Korean barbecue is perhaps the most common dish you’ll find served in Korea, among the popular dishes of samgyeopsal (pork) or bulgogi (marinated beef), and other types and cuts of meat available. Other very common meals are fried chicken which is often paired with beer, seafood of all sorts (which is very fresh because of location), and rice bowl type restaurants in which you get rice with a type of meat and some vegetables. While you are sure to run into these types of foods everywhere you turn, you can surely find just about any type of cuisine you are looking for especially if you visit Itaewon which is known for being the area with the most foreigners.

 

food-blog-image-2

Bibimbap is a bowl of rice with many vegetables, egg, and meat mixed together.

 

I enjoy seafood however, I usually stick to cooked dishes and a limited selection of common seafood such as crab, salmon, fish and shrimp. Since South Korea is right next to the ocean, the seafood is as fresh and diverse as you can get at the Noryangjin fish market. One thing I never thought I would try is live octopus. It is a very unusual and traditional dish in South Korea where tentacles are served still squirming on the plate. You dip it in a spicy type of oil and then eat it! The live octopus tasted pretty good actually, however the experience of having it squirming and stick to your mouth was really intense for me.

 

food-blog-image-3

Live octopus tentacles with sesame seeds. Definitely the strangest thing I’ve ever eaten!

 

The food I will miss the most when I return to the U.S. is gimbap. Gimbap is a simple, quick food which looks similar to sushi. It is usually some type of meat, tuna, or vegetables stuffed in rice and then rolled in a seaweed wrap. This quick food is nothing extravagant however the reason I will miss it is because of how easily available it is and it is quite healthy! At home in the U.S., if I wanted a quick bite to eat I usually resorted to fast food or heating up leftovers. With gimbap, I can usually find it fresh at any convenience store or one of the many food stalls or restaurants. It is easy to grab and go, or even take home. The best part is a roll of about 8-10 pieces costs around $1.20 USD!

 

food-blog-image-4

Gimbap is so cheap, delicious, and filling! With so many options you surely won’t get tired of it anytime soon!

 

I grew up in the United States and with a diverse population, so I have become accustomed to having a great variety of food available. I’ve also noticed that so many people including myself live busy lives in which they don’t have time to really enjoy a meal. There are so many times where I found myself grabbing a quick bite to eat and taking it home, or eating fast food in the car while on my way somewhere. In South Korea this is quite different. Eating in Korea is more of a social event and I see a lot less people eating alone. Usually friends or co-workers set up meeting times for lunch or dinner. Another difference is sharing food at the table! In the U.S. when I go out to eat with friends, everyone usually orders their own meals and sometimes we share an appetizer. In Korea, everyone agrees on a type of meat or food and places a large order that everyone shares straight from the pan it was cooked in! For instance, a restaurant I often go to with friends is a kind of fried rice place. You sit at a table with a large grill and pan in the middle and then choose a type of meat and any vegetables you want. They bring a large bowl of rice, vegetables, and meat, then cook it in the pan in front of you. When it is cooked, everyone takes from the pan onto their small plate.

 

food-blog-image-5

Sharing a large pot of the traditional dish Army Stew. Ramen noodles with veggies and hot dogs!

 

Food in South Korea is unique with all it has to offer, and quite inexpensive as well. I believe my meals average anywhere between $2-6 and they are always delicious and  filling. When I return to the U.S., I will definitely try to incorporate some of the food cultures I’ve learned into my lifestyle at home.

Leave a comment

Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

A Day in the Life of Jeff in South Korea

Leave a comment

Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

Coming to America

As I boarded the plane from Shanghai, I couldn’t help but reflect on the memories I had made and the new friends I was leaving behind. Although I had only spent one summer in China, it felt like a lifetime had elapsed. I looked forward to seeing my family and friends back in America, but I wished that they could have shared my experience as well. However, my journey in Asia was not over, in less than three hours I would be reunited with my childhood best friend, Ryo. When I landed in Tokyo, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had not seen Ryo in 13 years and I did not know what to expect. I recognized Ryo immediately as he towered over the crowd beaming the same goofy grin he wore in the second grade. We made our way back to his apartment in Shibuya and spent the evening in Tokyo where we caught up over a traditional Japanese dinner. Japan was quieter and the people seemed more reserved than their Chinese counterparts. In the morning we said our goodbyes and I made my way to the airport to catch my flight back to Ohio.

This time, it was real, I would be home in less than 24 hours and back in school that same day. When I arrived in Chicago, I felt as if I had entered a foreign land. Surely, this was not the America I remembered. The people seemed…bigger. I was no longer a giant among my peers, I was no longer a “foreigner” or “mei guo ren.” I ordered a Chicago style pizza and waited for my connecting flight to Dayton, Ohio. I arrived in Dayton to find my beautiful mother and sister waiting patiently. I was overwhelmed with joy to see my family and share the countless stories that I had amassed over the past three months.

 

reunion-with-momma

Reunion with momma.

 

Now that I have taken the time to acclimate and get over my jet lag, I find myself missing Chinese food and the meals I shared with my good friends. It was nice to catch up with my college friends after a long summer apart, but it was hard to relate to their experiences and increasingly difficult to translate my own. Life in the United States is fast-paced and it is hard not to reminisce about a simpler time when life was challenging, yet unusually relaxed. I noticed that the news is completely different from what I had been exposed to abroad. Now the narrative has shifted: The East has become the focal point of danger and the West is a safe haven for refuge. As I prepare to finish my last semester in college, I have a pretty good idea of what I have to look forward to in the “real” world. Currently, I am applying for the Fulbright assistantship, graduate school programs in the United States and China, and jobs in the financial services sector.

After studying abroad in China, I have acquired many new survival skills that will enable me to adapt to a foreign environment. I can navigate complex metro systems to explore new cities, find affordable local produce for home cooked meals, and budget my provisions to meet my immediate needs. I have also gotten pretty good at haggling, however I have not found much use for this skill in America. At the risk of sounding cliché, I feel that I have changed as a person since interning and living abroad. I have gained a broader understanding of Chinese culture and built a deeper connection with the international students in my community.

 

mindxplorer-family

My Mindxplorer family (where I did my internship).

 

Additionally, I have a better understanding of the nuances that make China foreign to Americans and am using my experience to bridge the cultural gap for my domestic friends. My passion for school has become invigorated because I see the applicability of the theoretical knowledge that I am learning in the “real” world. I have expanded my professional horizons by working for Chinese and international firms abroad to learn the meaning of “Guanxi” and the intricacies of international business. My advice for any young scholars interested in studying abroad or interning in China is to come with an open mind and an open heart. China is a challenge but it is well worth the reward—this experience is what you choose to make of it. For me, it was a tasty, heartwarming, and surreal journey that I will treasure for life.

 

boss

Leave a comment

Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

Rivalry and Unity, The KoYon Games

The first week of school at Korea University had just finished and all of the international students seemed to have survived the class registration chaos and started settling in. A message is posted in the Korea University Buddy Assistants (KUBA) Facebook group by one of the leaders, Jihyun. “Our first official event as KUBA will be an amazing cheering orientation on Friday!” she wrote. “Through this cheering orientation the Young Tigers (official cheer team) will teach us the cheers, songs and dances for the KoYon games!” At first glance many were quite confused as we were thrown off by the word “cheering.” Why would anyone need to teach us how to cheer or root for our team? We had no idea for what was in store, as it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. At 5 pm, half of the KUBA groups met in a small auditorium while the other half met at 7 pm. Everything seemed normal as we took our seats and listened to the start of the presentation. Minutes later we found ourselves up and about dancing, singing, and sweating with the cheering. The schools have around 20 or more songs which were a range from traditional, nationalistic, patriotic, or simply poking fun at our rival university, Yonsei University. Around two hours later we finished the cheering orientation. Everyone was dripping with sweat and exhausted from what seemed to be the hardest workout any of us had ever done. No one seemed to mind though as there were huge smiles all around and many still humming or singing the cheering songs long after it was over.

 

Cheering Orientation.JPG

Cheering orientation, the start of the madness.

 

Now the reason for all of this cheering was to prepare us for the Korea-Yonsei Games (KoYon Jeon). The KoYon games are a friendly rivalry sports competition between two of South Korea’s most prestigious universities- Korea University (KU) and Yonsei University- held annually in the fall. The games take place over two days and the schools compete in 5 sports: baseball, basketball, ice hockey, rugby, and soccer. Thousands of students fill the stadiums from both universities and cheer for around 6-8 hours at the games.

Two weeks fly by and the KoYon games were upon us. Friday is the first day of the games with baseball, basketball, and ice hockey on deck. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend basketball and ice hockey as tickets were given out based on a raffle. I decided to attend day 2 (Saturday) as no tickets were required. Each of the 8 KUBA groups met at the subway station near campus at different times between 7-8am. Once we arrived, we finally found the entrance we needed to enter through and waited for around two more hours. After the long wait, they finally let us in and handed each person a booklet with cheer song lyrics, a bottle of water, and a bread-like pastry. As we were entering we could already hear the Korean students who entered the stadium before us and then bam, fireworks shot off behind the stadium and the students erupted in cheer. Coming up the stairs was quite a sight to see. The entire stadium was packed with students split into two with KU crimson red on one side and Yonsei royal blue on the other. KU began cheering songs with the cheering team leading the way on a stage at field level while Yonsei does the same on the other half of the stadium with theirs. We quickly found a spot in the standing areas behind the seated sections. This worked out better as we had plenty of room to cheer and no one who had seats used them through the entirety of the rugby and soccer matches which went from 10am to 4pm.

 

koyon-stadium

Stadium divided by crimson red and royal blue students.

 

It was quite surprising really, the cheering songs never stopped. It was one song after another. With our arms on each other’s shoulders we swayed to some songs, jumped or dipped our heads up and down to other songs, and screamed out what little lyrics we actually remembered. It sure was something seeing students from different parts of the world all joined together in this stadium like two huge families. All laughing, singing, dancing without a care in the world. Most of the games throughout the weekend were extremely close considering Korea University has won the KoYon games for the past 4 years. KU won baseball while ice hockey and basketball ended in a draw. With those scores we would only need to win one in order to win the overall KoYon games score. The rugby game as with the other sports was very close however KU ended up losing by 2 points. Now the stage was set, only soccer left and the winner would be crowned KoYon games victor. Talk about intense! The soccer game started. The cheering continued. This time however, everyone was paying close attention to the soccer game while cheering. Yonsei scored first and we could hear them singing their cheers over ours. Things looked grim for KU as the first half ended 1-0 in favor of Yonsei. The 2nd half started and KU students got really into the game along with cheering. Every scoring opportunity was “ooh” and “aah” all around us. Finally it happened, KU scored a goal and we were back to even. The entire crimson red erupted and burst into the victory song that is played whenever KU scores in a sport. Another goal by KU and now the students can taste victory. Just 15 more minutes to hang on. This was perhaps the longest 15 minutes ever. Yonsei kicked it into overdrive and had scoring chances one after another. The time ticked down slowly and it looked as if Yonsei was about to break through until a misstep and KU took advantage with goal number 3. KU was victorious!

 

celebration-on-field

Students celebrate on the field after the games are over.

 

The two days of sports games and cheering was over now but the KoYon weekend was not. It is tradition that after the KoYon games, all students from both universities will go to one of the home towns and have a celebration full of food, events, live music, and many other activities. The group leads instructed us that we would take the subway back to Anam (the town where KU is located) and the after party would commence fairly soon. It took about 3 subway trains to get everyone back to Anam but we managed to do so quite quickly despite that many students. I’ll never forget the moment when we arrived back at Anam station. I exited the train and looked up to see the entire platform and stairs leading out of the subway was a sea of students in their crimson red or royal blue shirts. It was a really magical moment to see the rival universities all next to each other sharing in the same excitement for the upcoming night full of fun and memories together. Once out of the subway we saw that one of the main streets with many shops and restaurants is closed off to the public. There was one stage at the start of the street and another stage at the far end about 10 blocks down. Once everyone made their way to the street, there had to have been maybe 10,000 or more students packed in the streets. At times it was difficult to get by because there was so many people. During the beginning of the after party all the students play the “train game,” which is when 10 students form a line, or train, and you go to different restaurants doing chants or songs to try and get free food. It was such a fun and unique experience to participate in the train game. Our train lead was a KUBA leader and shouted out a chant in Korean which we echoed. After a few stops with the train we all split off to do different things.

 

after-party-gif

Fun after celebration in Anam with KU and Yonsei students.

 

A friend and I made our way to the far end of the street to the second stage where they started doing short, fun dance competitions with randomly selected students in the crowd. These were fun to watch as there were some really good dancers and some just up there having fun. This however turned into playing cheering songs from both universities. This was perhaps one of my favorite moments of being a student at Korea University so far. To our surprise many students knew the cheering songs for both schools. We jumped into one of the cheering circles and it was such a great moment. I looked around the circle and saw students who didn’t know one another, students from rival universities, students with a language barrier, and students of varying ages, race and gender. None of that mattered as everyone was joined up arm in arm singing the songs, dancing around and having an absolute blast. We ended up loving the cheering so much that we participated in it for about the last 3 hours of the night. Needless to say, it was extremely tiring and I don’t think I’ve put my body through that kind of workout ever. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the stages packed up and restaurants closed. We said goodbye to our new friends from both KU and Yonsei and made our way back to the dorms. At my home university, I don’t live on campus so I am usually only there when I have classes. Because of this and working at the same time, I’ve had a hard time becoming really involved or having a lot of school spirit. That all changed after the KoYon games. I feel a sense of belonging and this is my new home. I’m a Korea University Tiger forever. I’ve done many exciting things in my life and ventured to many places around the world however the KoYon games and after celebration might just top them all.

Leave a comment

Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

Tempus Fugit

Life is like a roller-coaster; the following is a peak-and-trough analysis of the past two weeks. My least favorite moment in Shanghai came when I said goodbye to some good friends I had made throughout the last two months. I am relocating to a second internship in Beijing. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and sure enough, the next high would present itself with the long awaited arrival of my hén hǎo de péngyou, Terry. When I met Terry in Calculus class, I never would have expected that three years later I would be waiting for him at the airport in his native country.

 

my-bestfriend-terry

My best friend Terry.

 

In my previous posts, I talked about the meaning of food and how excited I was to try authentic Chinese cuisine. I did not fully comprehend how dangerous it would be to order my own meals. Most of the time it was hit or miss but more often than not I would regret it later when nature called. Eventually, I learned my lesson and started cooking my own meals, always alternating between McDonald’s and KFC for lunch, much to Terry’s dismay. Over a span of four days, Terry restored my faith in Chinese food as I tasted Shanghai with virgin lips.

Finally, it was time for us to leave for Chongqing where we would meet Terry’s family. Terry’s father and mother were very welcoming and showed incredible hospitality. They arranged superb accommodations and placed reservations at the finest restaurants in Chongqing. China’s economy has seen tremendous growth over the last few decades and as a self-made business man, Terry’s father offered me practical life advice. He asked me to call him shūshu (uncle) and showed me a glimpse of the luxurious life of the Chinese elite.

 

chongqing-hotpot

Chongqing hotpot.

 

We toured the city, enjoyed bubble tea drinks at an exotic zoo-themed café and went to the most famous hot pot restaurant in the city. Chongqing is near Sichuan and boasts the spiciest food in the country. Naturally, they thought I couldn’t keep up. Dish after dish came and I proved I had a stomach of steel. At the culmination of the meal, Shūshu’s friend, who is the president of a university, presented a nice gift that featured original postage stamps from all over China.

Later we went to a famous night club and watched a performance from the number one DJ in China. This was one of the most memorable nights of my life. Chinese people are not known for being liberal dancers and I saw this an opportunity to share my culture. I jumped on the empty stage when the DJ started playing hip-hop music and soon I was lost in my own world. I opened my eyes only to be blinded by the spotlight. As I looked across the sea of people, I realized they were all frozen; a thousand eyes fixated on the Egyptian-American dancing wildly before them. At first, I was intimidated, but then I encouraged the spectators to come on stage and dance with me. One by one they came until the stage was filled with Chinese people dancing around Terry and myself.

The next morning, I felt excruciating pain as my stomach fought the side effects of the hot pot. I mustered up the last of my strength to attend the home cooked meal that Shūshu had prepared. Although I could not eat much, the food looked and smelled delicious. Afterward, we enjoyed a scenic view from his company office overlooking the famous Yangtze River. The following morning, they arranged a “goodbye” dinner with an assortment of Shūshu’s acquaintances. I did not know it at the time but I was sitting next to one of the most powerful men in China. We laughed and shared stories using Terry as a translator to overcome the language barrier. At the end of the meal, they poured their drinks into their baijiu wells, which is the highest honor you can give someone.

I was sad to leave but at the same time, I was ecstatic to see my sister, Mel. I arrived in Beijing on my birthday and had dinner with Mel. Afterward, we met Val, my Russian friend, for a night on the town and celebrated my birthday in style. We made many new friends. My new co-workers here in Beijing are very kind and have gone to great lengths to welcome me to their city. I am excited to experience the rich history that Beijing has to offer. From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, and the terracotta warriors in Xian—I want to see it all. With just under twenty days left in China, I cannot wait for the new adventures that await!

 

reunion-with-my-sister

Reunion with my sister.

1 Comment

Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

Gilman Scholar Jeff Prasad Shares His First Impressions of South Korea

Leave a comment

Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

A Metamorphosis Abroad

I have never been able to relate to a lot of the people I met growing up unless they came from a similar background as I do. If they did not, a bridge was immediately formed where we stood on opposite ends, speaking still, yet never truly hearing or understanding one another. This was especially true for Asian people (I know how bad that sounds but let me finish). Growing up, I definitely let the media, stereotypes, and Hollywood brainwash my ideas surrounding Chinese people. I always assumed they were very well-off, and super good at math. The fact that the Asians at my schools fit these stereotypes only pushed my prejudices deeper into my conscious. Before studying abroad, I had only met three Asians who did not fit these stereotypes, but still zero I could relate to. Yet still, I have been fascinated with Asia since I was a child, and made it my mission to eventually travel here. This by far one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life.

My first day in Hong Kong was a very humbling experience. It was the first time in my life I saw Chinese people doing regular jobs, like supermarket cashiers, fast food, and plenty of other jobs. I thought wow, these people are just like every other race: diverse. Diverse in every sense of the word, from their fashion, views, and physique. It washed away my idea that Chinese people were people I just couldn’t relate to because we are just so different, but that is so far from the truth. This is the part where I introduce my brilliant co-worker and friend Ariel.

 

IMG_3294

This is Ariel, my brilliant Hong Kong sister whom I will miss dearly.

 

Ariel is like my tiny little sister, even though shes only one year younger me. She is an incredibly hard worker and has taught me so much about Hong Kong culture. We have similar views on most things we discuss, like the governing and policing parties, how life should be more than just working so much, and plenty of other stuff. She is the reason I work overtime practically everyday, her presence is dope. She’s passionate about her people and their freedom, she goes to protests just like us Berkeley folk are known for doing.

Through friendships like Ariel’s and my coursework through the University of Hong Kong, I have learned a lot about myself. I thought I was capable of adapting to any environment, but I discovered my kryptonite: censorship. During my travel to and from Tokyo, I have stopped in Shanghai a couple times. Since Shanghai is a part of mainland China, censorship is very real there. I was blocked from using all my apps, and even e-mail. I firmly believe that no one or governing force should have the power to control the information people can receive. It creates a bubble for that group of people, they become lost in the dark. Knowledge is power, and when access to resources that can provide that knowledge is prohibited, people gain very little power.

Experiencing this censorship was a miserable experience, until I decided to make the most of it. I exchanged my HKDs (Hong Kong’s currency) for RMB (China’s currency) and wandered around Shanghai. I discovered street vendors who were cooking some food that smelled amazing. I was about 3 dollars short, so I gave them the rest of my Hong Kong coins, and they accepted them with intrigue. When I was leaving, one of them asked for a picture with me, and of course I said yes because she had been so kind.

 

FullSizeRender

My delicious meal in Shanghai.

IMG_2945

The kind street vendor who asked for a picture with me.

 

One of my reasons for interning in Hong Kong was because I imagined the work culture here being extremely intense (it is). So I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to force myself to improve as a professional. I can say mission accomplished. Through my internship with the social enterprise Mircoforests, I have written website content, drafted a grant proposal, designed workshop newsletters, and produced press releases. I have gotten used to working 8 hours a day plus the usual hour or hour and a half overtime (keep in mind my internship is unpaid). I can focus on tasks better, I have learned how to write grants, press releases, and effective newsletters. I know the inner-workings of social enterprises which are similar to non-profits,  and I plan on starting my own non-profit or social enterprise once I have the means to do so.

I came here under the impression I was open-minded, then discovered I could be very narrow-minded at times. It feels like someone has pried my mind wide open with a crow bar, showing me a beautiful aspect of diversity and human connection. This experience has prompted a conscious metamorphosis.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under East Asia, Sua in Hong Kong