Things we love(d) about Korea

IMG_5333Here’s a rundown of what we loved about having lived in Korea for the past two years. We left in April and miss a lot of great things. We want to get this down finish this blog so we can move on to our Turkish blog.

The Short List:

Shopping in Korea can takes a little getting used to, but quickly became on of our favorite activities. We loved the outdoor street markets, especially the one in front of our home. We loved the varieties of cute merchandise in the Stationary Stores, the great customer service everywhere, and eating out was always an adventure and usually a treat. Here is a video of the outdoor market on our block. We loved this little market and miss it every time we go to a big grocery store.

Autumn in Korea

Autumn in Korea

Korea, for its being tiny – half the size of Minnesota – and highly populated, has an abundance of parks, mountains, rivers, islands, and coastlines. There are eighteen national parks, tens of thousands of islands with countless ferries between them, and well maintained hiking trails on every local mountain. If you’re into hiking, this is the place to be.  There were 3 small mountains within a 30 minute walk of our front door, and even the lesser known one offered a terrific view of the city after 20 minutes of uphill strolling. Also, Mokpo is surrounded on two sides by Shinan-gun, a county made up of 1,004 islands. We could take a bus, ferry, or our car and go poke around the islands for hours. (Quite the treat for a prairie girl!)

You can walk pretty much anywhere, any time, and feel safe here. Akasha has wandered Seoul after 11 looking for hotels and felt no fear at all. You can drink till the wee hours and hail a cab with little wait to whisk you home, usually for around five dollars. And if all that revelry puts you under the weather, the hospitals can get you back on your feet for a few dollars.

One of Mike's favorites - waffle fish with red bean paste. Yum!

One of Mike’s favorites – waffle fish with red bean paste. Yum!

Korean Food
We’ve been home for almost 4 months and would love some dolsat bibimbap, mul nang mien, Gamjiatang from the Yim’s across the street, and kim bap. Or any of the dollar ramiens from the Family Mart. Or hoduk pancakes from the street vendor. Mandu dumplings. Pat Bing Su The list goes on and on… I watched this feature on L.A.’sKorea Town last night and was drooling over the sundubu and bbq

At the Chrysanthemum Festival

At the Chrysanthemum Festival

Every village in Jeolla Province, and around Korea, has their claim to fame. Bamboo in Damyang, Bibimbap in Jeonju, lotus flowers in Muan. And for a week each year, every village gets to strut their stuff during their festival. Like county fairs that bloom in late summer of Minnesota, the festival season brings the flowers of local pride to light all across the peninsula. All the vendors come out and sell their version of the specialties, and you get to sample the local hospitality.

Internet Gadgets
Korea has lived up to its reputation as a gadget-friendly nation. Everywhere you go there’s some kind of free wi-fi, but even if you don’t know the password, the 3G is plentiful and fast, even on the tops of remote mountains. We’ve Skyped from our cellphones, listened to streaming audio while in the middle of a mountain tunnel, played poo-based smartphone games, and downloaded gigabytes of entertainment in minutes, rendering Netflix barely missed at all. For electronic toys, Korea is an A+ nation.

Great adventures!

Insert plug for our friend, Pedro. We miss Pedro’s Lonely Korea tours. Pedro is an amazing entrepreneur who started a great travel company in Gwangju (city 45 minutes north of Mokpo.) We miss our Pedro adventures. He took us on great explorations, we went to the first Buddhist temple in Korea, to a sea water spa, and river rafting. I missed a million great trips with him to Jeju, caving, fishing, jet skiing, festivals… the guy plans great trips.  He thinks of every little detail, and shows a new side of Korea to you.  He has just opened a guest house in Gwangju, Pedro’s Guest House. Go, stay there, say hi to Pedro for us.

I’m sure we’re missing some things. The bus system, for instance. Or the weather, which was mostly great. And the people, who were always friendly and helpful. Sunrises and sunsets, or the glow of neon on magic street that we could see from our window at night.

We’re moving on to Turkey now and have just put together a new blog. Thank you for following us for the last two years, and we’d be honored if you kept up with us in the future.


Fall in Jeollanam-do

I love fall in Korea. It is warmer, sunnier, and drier than fall in MN. It is also beautiful.  We are also 12° south of MN , and in dry season so, unfortunately, we don’t have all the amazing leaf colors MN does.  But we have lots of other colors. It is beautiful here.  You probably remember my posting about how I (Akasha) walk past a fig orchard on the way to work?  Well, they are beautiful in fall.  Green, purple, brown, they literally burst open on the trees. It is so cool.  I’ve been learning to cook with them, making fig liquor, jam, figs and pork, fig muffins, fig bread…

fig brusting in the sun

There are beautiful flowers late into the fall/ early winter.  Roses and Camillas are still blooming.  There are lots of pretty white, purple, and pink flowers. I really love the orange flowers, they kind of look like California Poppies. Another fruit all over Korea that we don’t see in MN is persimmon.  I don’t think they taste like much, but they are beautiful. We had a few typhoons late in the year and they knocked the fruit off of most of the trees along our coast, but we saw some big trees full of fruit on our road trip.  Many farmers planted them along side the orange flowers.  They are so beautiful.  I wish I could bring this scene back home. If you look carefully at the pic on the left you can see the juice running down underneath the orange persimmon.

persimmon dripping with juice

Persimmons on the river bank

Chestnuts are everywhere too. They are falling off of the trees.  Vendors roast them on the street with what looks like chickory.  It smells great, but I’m not much for the taste.  Maybe if they were salted…


The markets are full of all sorts of great stuff this time of year. It is a great time to go shopping. Since you cant be here to see it, I thought I’d share some of our pictures.

A few more blogs coming up will talk about our favorite fall foods, weekend road trips, and more school stuff. We miss you guys.  We love it when you comment, it is like keeping in touch and motivates us to write more.

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The Monsoons

It’s officially monsoon season here in Jeolla. When we got here we thought a monsoon was a big storm.  Turns out, we were wrong.  A monsoon is a season with a fairly specific, Wiki-accessible definition. Sometimes there are amazing storms (Typhoons) with 90mph winds and torrential downpours that knock out our neighbors windows and push me down.  Some times there are bright, hot, clear, sunny days where there is no escape from the sun.  Many days there is a constant foggy drizzle that saturates everything, bloats your books and frizzes your hair.  It is 100% humid all the time.

100% humidity, isn’t that rain? you ask.  Or fog? Not necessarily.  100% humidity is washing the dishes at night, sleeping 8 hours, and waking up to wet dishes.  100% humidity is having the dog nap on your bed while you’re at work and drool on your bedding.

2 Day old doggie drool

Then, the drool spot is still there when you get home, still there when you go to bed, still there when you go to work the next day (I’m calling Guiness soon.)  100% humidity means never straightening your hair, cause it will be a spring factory an hour later.

Generally speaking, Monsoon season is a soggy mess of heat and wet. The air stays misty and damp, the mist slowly getting heavier until you’re walking through huge mist droplets that begin slowly settling to the ground, then growing bigger until you realize they’re raindrops, which continue to get bigger, and heavier, until you’re trapped in a steady rain that will last all day. Or it will build into a huge gully-washer with thunder that makes the kids (and some teachers) scream in the halls of school.

It also has interesting side effects re: sweating. I (Mike) wore a nice orange shirt in to work the other day. By some miscommunication, my co-teacher had to leave a class unattended, and I was forced to fill in. This nervousness, combined with the humidity, left me with definite sweat-rings about the size of dinner plates under both arms. I was doing pretty well until I had to raise my arms to point at things, and noticed the kids were pointing at their armpits and laughing. They were also pointing at me. And laughing.

Here’s one lesson to take from this: if you ever want to amuse a room full of Korean third graders, try some sweaty armpits. Endlessly entertaining. It made discipline a challenge, though. I had to turn mean for a minute, giving them the meanest face I have, and when they’d settled down and when I resumed teaching I had to do it T-Rex style, elbows pinned to my waist. And nothing’s cooler, or classier, than that. And no, there are no photos.

Short haircut Remi

How does Remi like the monsoon season?  Well, last year we learned the hard way that heavy fur six inches long can carry an extra five pounds of monsoon water after a decent walk in the rain.  So this year, we’ve shaved him nearly bald.  He HATES gettting shaved, in fact when we approach the groomers he tries hard to go the other way. But he’s much more comfortable now, though he looks a bit like a pointer/dalmation.

When the monsoons end we will be enjoy the ripe juicy figs, pods bursting with sesame seeds, persimmons, pumpkins, rice, and gourds galore, and it will be good.

sesame plants growing crazy in the rain

There will be cool breezes and drier air, though we know the ‘death heat’ is also just around the corner.  But until then, bring on the moisture.

We don’t have air-conditioning, just 3 fans that push the air around and two awesome doors to create a pretty decent cross breeze.  Sometimes we go hide in air–conditioned restaurants, but mostly we just suck it up.  Put on a pair of galoshes, grab an umbrella, and go for a hike.

A bamboo grove on a stormy day
(between storms)

There is are two  summer foods that we just LOVE to beat the humidity.  Mul Neng Mien (ice water soup) and Pat Bing Su.  Mul Neneg Mien is the best cold soup ever! It is made

Mul Neng Mien (with green tea noodles and ham)

with soba noodles, juilianed cucumbers, Asian pears, and white radish.  The broth is made of kimchi juice.  It is frozen and half defrosted, then  the boiling hot soba noodles are tossed in, leaving little chopped icebergs floating.  It is served with half a hard boiled egg, mustard, and rice vinegar.  It is crisp, tart, filling, and refreshing.  Oh, and it is served in a metal bowl, so it cools your hands too.!  My other big favorite is Pat Bing Su.

Traditional Pat Bing Su is a big bowl filled with shaved ice, sweet red beans, little rice cakes, gummy candies, and a scoop of ice cream. Umm, yeah.  I’m not a big fan of the original.  But there are a million varieties. Choco banana Pat Bing Su has chocolate shaved ice, banana slices, chocolate ice cream and syrup, oreos, and fancy rolly cookies.

Chocobanana patbingsu

Most of your fruits have a Pat Bing Su. Blueberry Pat Bing Su, Mango Pat Bing Su and the mother of all Pat Bing Su: Mixed fruit Pat Bing Su has juice shaved ice, a medley of fresh and canned fruits, gummies, sweet rice cakes, berry syrup, and berry ice cream.  So good.  It’s like diabetes in a bowl!  If that doesn’t beat the heat it is time to move home.

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A bit of our neighborhood

Welcome to our neighborhood!  Mike and I have been living here for a little over a year. Back home we were a systems administrator and an ESL teacher.  Here we are both elementary EFL teachers.  We live in Mokpo, a small port city in South-Western Korea.
Remi, our 12 year old English Springer Spaniel would love to show you around the town. See if you can spot him in each photo.

 1. a post box
Not much more to say.

A postal box

2. a local store/corner shop
(its name in Korean is “Neighborhood Mart.”)  It is where we buy almost everything.  We love these guys.

The neighborhood mart

3. a manhole cover 
If you look in the middle you’ll see our city’s emblem, 1 blue and 2 green boats.

A manhole cover

4. a park/play area
A mixture of modern and postmodern.  That is actually a wedge of cement kids climb up/ scramble down. Dangerous by US standards/ Fun by Korean standards.

A playground

 5. a view of a typical street
Most people live in apartment buildings, many of them 15 story ones like ours.
(There are 4 buildings in this picture)

Cherry blossoms in our neighborhood

6. local form of transport (ferry terminal) There are 1,004 islands off the coast of Mokpo.  They have beautiful beaches and many farms. We live by the small ferry terminal used mainly by farmers to transport crops.  There are two big ferry terminals down the road, but we live by the cute North Ferry Terminal.  The terminal itself is a cute booth. We’ve only seen 5 boats at a time at here.  We’ve taken the boats here and they seem to be used mainly by island farmers. We prefer our small terminal to the big one in downtown.

The small ferry terminal

7. Mike’s school
It is a pretty average elementary school.  They have a nice turf yard.  My school covets their turf.  We have a dirt yard.

Mike’s elementary school with soccer field and track

8. fish restaurants at the port
Hungry?  Let’s stop in for the catch of the day.  Abalone, octopus, and skate are very popular in Mokpo.  Octopus is often eaten alive, or raw.  I’ve tried the raw, still moving, octopus.  Surprisingly, it is really tasty.

A fresh fish restaurant

9. a jumpy gym
These are also all over our neighborhood.  They are often with Tae-kwon-do schools.  They cost 50 cents (US) a visit and are awesome.  I really wish I could go jump too.

A bounce gym- 50 cents!

10. the beach
Remi loves to go to the beach.  We cheated, this beach is actually a little drive away.  Mokpo is a port town, there is no beach.  But the beaches in neighboring Muan are fabulous. You can see some of the Shinan islands in the distance.

Remi at the beach

11. exercise everywhere. 
This is an awesome phenomena.  Every set of apartment buildings and  every park have these great exercise machines.  They are used by people of all ages and abilities.

exercise machines in the park

12. agriculture everywhere.
This is pretty cool too.  Every open piece of land no matter how small gets turned into a garden.  Some people grow a bit for themselves, but usually they grow quick crops like lettuce and sell it on the street. It is awesome.

Urban agriculture

Thanks for stopping by.  We’ve been enjoying seeing other people’s neighborhoods as well.  We’ve done a few introductions to our new life back home.  Feel free to tour our home, or visit Mike and Akasha’s classrooms, read about school festivals, or see how school is different here.
Oh, and a big thanks to Jo for making it all happen!
Here are the other participants, and their post date:
June 25 — Japan –
26 – California, USA
28 –  Canary islands,
29 – East Devon, UK,
30 – Michigan,  U.S.A.
July 1 – Mokpo, S0uth Korea,
3 – Falkirk in Scotland,
4 – Washington,  U.S.A. –
6 – South Africa –
7 – New York City, USA –
9 – Wellington, NZ –
10 – Berlin, Germany –
11 – UK (cambridge) –
13- Morocco A last minute add!

Korean elementary schools

I (Akasha) am a teacher at home (MN, U.S.A.) as are many of my friends.  This post is intended mostly as a comparison of teaching in Korea to teaching in our public schools.

Big Differences:
Things are very last minute here. Even after a year, I was struck by the last minute approach when the school year changed. I think that we’ve mentioned before that teachers change schools every four years.  They can only teach in the same province for eight years.  That means in a 20 year teaching career you will teach in 3 provinces. The school year starts nation-wide the day after Korean Memorial Day. This year it started on a Friday.

The Monday before the school year began, the teachers were informed what schools they would be teaching in (and therefore what towns). On the first day at the new schools, they learned what grades and subjects they would be teaching.  Then, the teachers went up by team to select envelopes.  The envelopes had student rosters in them.  They drew their rosters at random.  That is VERY different from home where we begin planning the elementary class rosters the spring of the previous school year, trying to get the right blend of personalities and academic strengths in a room.

To clarify: on Monday they were assigned to their school, drew student rosters, and were assigned rooms.  Wednesday was a national holiday.  School started on a Friday.  On Friday the school was still a mess.  Desks were in the hall, and all the old teacher’s stuff was up on the wall.  Looked like a tornado had just passed.  Crazy.

Ice cream filled rice cakes

Kids clean the building.
I mentioned this before, but it still startles me.  The kids clean the building.  While it is good that the students take responsibility to maintain their building, you can imagine that they aren’t the most diligent cleaners. (Mine keep trying to clean the tables with the brooms they sweep the floors with.)

Building layout
The buildings here have a slightly different layout, more open sided like a California school (think 90210.)  My school has 3 buildings.

A Building: Administrative offices, Nurse/Dentist, English, Ping-pong room, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades.  The library, 5-6 music classroom,  the computer lab, and art room

(Pretty garden, parking, play space between)

B Building: Kindergarten (optional 1 classroom + kinder bathroom), 1st, 5th and 6th grade. There’s also a classroom just for violin lessons.

C Building: Cafeteria and Gym (two floors)

School calendar:
The school year begins the day after Korean memorial day. This year it was a Friday, the 2nd  of March.  We teach one semester that ends in July, then have a 5 week vacation.  We return to school in September for the 2nd semester, and teach until December.  Then we have a five week winter vacation.  This keeps the schools empty (minus “camps”) during the hottest and the coldest months of the year. The Korean school year is 221 days, almost 40 days more than Minnesota’s 182 day calendar. (This is the first year without school every other Saturday too)

Graduation Day!

The odd part is that students return to school for one week in February for graduation week.  At my school we didn’t teach any content, they didn’t have any electives, but everyone was here for a week.  On Friday, K-5th grade comes to school for 2 hours, then leaves. The 6th grade held a graduation ceremony, then the teachers went out to lunch.

The school day:
The day officially starts at 9, but by 8:30 the crossing guards have left.  Yup, most kids get to school about an hour early.  Classes start at 9 and are 40 minutes long. There’s a 10 minute break between each class, but a 20 minute break after period 2.  (At Mike’s school, Wednesday’s classes only have a five minute break between periods.) Grades 1-4 only go to school for 4 periods a day.  They leave after lunch.  That’s right.  They eat a free, hot, made fresh at school lunch, then go home at 1pm.  Only grades 5 & 6 are in the building after lunch. During the free periods teachers usually go to the lounge, run errands, have a snack/ smoke.  Students are completely unsupervised for much of the day, also a big difference from  home.

Parent – Teacher Associations
PTAs are much more powerful here.  They second the text books that the teachers select and can override the teacher’s decision.  They come to observe our class (not the admin) in groups of 20+.  They are the crossing guards.  The parents can change many things in a school.  We needed 5 chaperones for a trip.  Almost 30 volunteered.  We paid to take all 30, even though it was too many adults.

Crab soup, tofu, kimch, veggie custard, and greens

Crab soup, tofu, kimch, veggie custard, and greens

Classroom management:
Behavior management is very different.  Corporal punishment was outlawed just before we arrived.  I don’t see teachers hitting students, but I do see them pulling their ears, making them do burpees, making them do downward dog on their knuckles… The most common punishment is to make a student stand at the back of the room.

Confucian philosophy affects everything here, and this means that the students are really good at policing each other.  I told my 5th graders that if every student did their homework the whole class would get a sticker.  The next period only 1 or 2 students were missing their work.  The period after that, everyone had their work finished.  They made sure that the disorganized kids got it done so they wouldn’t miss out.  I just can’t picture my US students policing each other this much.

The overall philosophy is that the children should work it out amongst themselves.  This has its positives, but does lead to an awful lot of bullying.  I would say, anecdotally, that their anti- bullying curriculum is about 10 years behind what I am accustomed to.

Like at home, we teachers have a “friendship fund.”  It is $30 a month.  The money goes to support teacher activities.  The entire school gets together on Wednesdays from 3-5pm to play volleyball and eat snacks. Once every few weeks we have an inter school game against three other schools , and once a semester we go out to dinner as a staff.

A teacher’s meeting

Teacher dinner is always on a Wednesday.  After the dinner many of the teachers go to the Noraebang and sing karaoke style.  A bunch go on after to have a snack and drink.  Mind you there is a lot of dinking going on at the previous two events.  The events usually go on till 2 a.m.  Then we have school the next day.


Most of this has been said, but the elementary students work hard and play hard.  They get here an hour early. They clean the  building inside and out.  87% go to private school before/after class.

My students play hard.  They have two 10 minute breaks, a 20 minute break, and an hour long lunch/free time break.  There are no rules and no supervisors during free time.  They play soccer in the halls, they play dodge ball without restraint.  They  climb on displays, out windows, and aren’t being naughty.  It’s okay.  If they get hurt, it is their responsibility.(Big difference there) They are pretty awesome.  I like’em.  My favorite time of year is camps so I can tailor make lessons to bring out the fun in them.


There are virtually no subs.  You might be able to get a long-term sub if you put in a request in advance and one is available.  Otherwise a teacher will periodically pop-in to check on your students.  Last year a 1st grade teacher  had a family emergency and was gone for +1 month.  My co-teacher would go for a period a day to check on her 1st graders.  There was no instruction in that time.

Teachers Day:

Ah teacher’s day.  Minnesota teachers, you have no idea. On teacher’s day we cancel classes.  All the teachers go to the stadium and play a bracket style volleyball game.  My school went to the final round this year.  The men’s team played the first game at 8:30 am and they finished play 7:30 pm.  In between there were tons of snacks.  Before and after teachers day I was flooded with thanks.  Here are a few of the sweet notes I got:

Finally, here is a video I made to give you an idea of what my school is like.  Can you count how many “Hellos” and bows I get?  I can’t.

Dog days

Pets are less common here, they are treated differently, and there are many feral cats and dogs on the streets.  We often ignore things we don’t want to see as a method of coping.  But last night we couldn’t ignore this cute puppy twitching and convulsing on the ground next to our building.  Someone had wrapped him in a blanket and tucked another blanket under his head.  We went home and called the vet to see if he was still open, grabbed a towel and a box and went back for him.  When we got back another neighbor had come by to bring him a bowl of porridge, but he wasn’t responsive.

The puppy, resting

We chatted with her for a second and figured out that neither of us knew where he came from, but that we would take him to the vet.   She escorted us to a taxi and tried to help give directions.  When we got out of the cab the driver looked at the sick puppy and said “I love you!” in English. Dr. Chan stayed open late waiting for us and stayed late taking care of him.
The poor fellow didn’t open his eyes on the ride to the vets or as the vet examined him.   He had a thick full coat, matted and muddy, but healthy.  His gums were a  light white pink, no fever, he had all the signs of a healthy dog.  Sadly, he wasn’t wasn’t waking up, he was twitching and convulsing.  Dr. Chen said he would give him an IV and some antibiotics and we should come back in the morning. He guessed that he was about 4 months old, but couldn’t guess the breed.  He was a very big puppy.

When we returned today he said that he was getting better and had drank, walked, and peed, but would need care.  He tested negative for heartworm and distemper, but was having seizures that were stopping him from swallowing.  Dr. Chen said that he would probably have a seizure a month, but be an otherwise healthy puppy.   We couldn’t take him with our 3 pets and our work schedule, and all of our friends are gone at work 9 hours a day, so the vet called the dog shelter. He said the shelter would take care of him until he found a home.  All told the antibiotics, food, boarding, and tests cost 82,000 won about 72 USD.

Close-up of the little cutie.

For all that we have heard of people mistreating animals here our neighbors really stepped up to bat for this puppy.  I hope he has many wonderful puppy adventures and finds a good home.  I was happy to learn that there is a stray shelter in my town.  Dr. Chen is an awesome vet, his services are limited in contrast to our vet in MN, but he is as caring and kind.

If you are in Mokpo and need a vet I highly recommend Dr. Chen.  He is an advanced  English speaker.  His clinic is very clean and comfortable and he is kind.  He is at Seoul Clinic across from Jin  Mart.  (tell that to the cabbie) his office number is 061-279-1175 he is open Monday to Friday until 7pm, Saturdays until 6pm and he closes for lunch from 12:30- 1:30.

Eek! It’s skatefish!

Skatefish, or hong-uh in Korean, is a traditional delicacy with a great deal of notariety among the foreinger community of Mokpo. I (Mike) have eaten skatefish twice now; the first time by accident, the second time more or less by design. I can’t account for this lack of proper judgement, but the story may prove amusing, and a warning to those of you planning a culinary tour of Korea.

Skatefish has a lot of things going against it. First of all, like most flat fish, it’s a bottom feeding scavenger, most comfortable lying around in the muck of the ocean, away from all the cool fish. Second, the skatefish has no kidneys. You’d think this would doom it to blood poisoning, but it’s adapted itself in a clever way: All urine gets processed within the muscles of its ‘wings.’

The wings, not coincidentally, are the parts of the skatefish people eat. And, because they are soaked in urine, and the skate is fermented from 2 to 10 days, the flesh gets a pungent, out-housey scent that sends most people running for the exit. This, oddly, doesn’t keep skate from being eaten in the west. Western cookbooks simply advise that if the skate has not been processed properly, the meat will smell strongly of ammonia, and should be discarded. I suspect Korean cookbooks have the opposite warning.

I can’t really justify my eating something that smells of ammonia except by saying, that 1) I did not order the skatefish either time and 2) I don’t smell very well.

At the teahouse. It was quite lovely, actually.

The first eating was at a teahouse that recently opened near Akasha’s school. We wandered in, and the jovial hospitality of the owners made me excessively polite, and I ate whatever was offered. (Akasha does not succumb to this kind of pressure. She is smart enough to avoid skatefish at all costs.)

The second time, I was at a teacher’s dinner, another situation where politeness is important. It was a restaurant where they specialized in raw seafood, such as the Hong-uh, and a raw blue crab that was soaked in soy sauce and garlic, hacked to pieces and set out on a ceramic tray. So it seemed only polite to give the skatefish another try.

You may be wondering why I put something that smelled so bad anywhere near my mouth. But I was wondering the opposite, how something that I had eaten didn’t smell so bad at all. So it was here at the teacher’s dinner that I finally held a piece up to my nose, and learned, once again, that my nose is pretty much useless for long-range smelling. An inch from my nose, the smell hit me. I teared up, my eyes watering, and I nearly ran from the restaurant.

My co-teacher showed me a trick, though. It’s an ancient method of coping with the ammonia smell. You eat the hong-uh in layers, with sliced pork and kim chi on either side. This provides a nice ‘sandwiching’ effect, where the sweetness of the pork and spice of the kimchi can contain the smell until it reaches your mouth. And, finally, you sense a paradox of skatefish: It doesn’t taste that bad. It’s kind of sweet and delicate. It’s almost a shame the smell turns people off.

Or is it? Because there’s one last problem that even buffering cannot solve. Skates are related to sharks, so they have no true bones. They do have cartilage, however, and the cartilage is not removed before serving. This means the skatefish is like chewing on, say, fingernails, or velcro tabs, or fish-flavored bubble wrap.

I tried to chew the skate for several minutes, but it did not yield to my weak, western jaws. Finally, because politeness only goes so far, I spit the skatefish discretely into a napkin and set it near my plate for disposal. I felt a bit like when I was eight years old, hiding the peas under the edge of my plate so I could leave the table. So, my adventures with skatefish have ended. I won’t be trying it again.

How to clean a skatefish.

Another tale of skatefish (with pictures)