Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Raising The Flag

Timing is everything. Just as I had decided to reinvest my interest back in blogging about Korea I get a notice in the post from the Consulate. "On the occasion of the Anniversary of Korean National Foundation Day and Korean Heritage Day, the Consul General of the Republic of Korea in Toronto requests the pleasure of your company at a flag raising ceremony and a reception afterwards".


Location: the legislative Building at Queen's Park. Seriously. I don't know how I got on their VIP list, but I couldn't be more pleased. I am pretty sure I can squeeze an early/extended lunch on the day this goes down so I can be there. I don't really know what to expect other than a flag being raised and a good possibility because it happens over lunch time, some good Korean eats. I will pack my camera and be ready for whatever it is that comes my way. Kamsa Hamnida!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oh, Korea! We meet again.

A few weeks ago, I came across a new opportunity to link me back to Korea. I have been sulking a little recently about blogging and my lack of writing over the past few months. I arrived home from Korea about 6 months ago, just as summer was starting to kick in. This past summer, after being away from Toronto for so long, was epic. I caught up with friends, spent lots of time with family and did lots of excursions to remind me why I love Canada so much and how happy I was to be home. As much as I love Toronto, it was great to go up to cottages and spend weekends up North, out of the city. It has been an amazing home coming.

Saying all that, looking at my blog archive window, I had one entry in June, one in July and none in August. Part of the reasoning behind that was because my summer was so jam packed and there was barely a minute to spare to focus on my writing. But part of it was also because for a long time, my blog was so deeply entwined with my life in Korea, that it lost a little bit being back home. How does one keep up a travel blog, when one is no longer really travelling? I struggled with this for a while. Do I change ALEX ON THE LOOSE, to ALEX IN THE CITY? Do I start up a whole new blog now that I am back in Toronto?

Technically, I am still writing for The Korea Blog, for my second year. I wasn't sure how to make that work once I left Seoul. My mission turned into "finding Korea in Toronto". Over the past 6 months I have really enjoyed learning about Korea within Toronto. But somehow, my blog wasn't thriving (translation- Alex was lazy). I made some great new friends at the Korean Consulate, I was invited to some great events they organized, I took part in the Korean Film Festival, I met another local blogger that is part of The Korea Blog (her name is Cindy and she has a great Korea-centric blog too, ). Also, I am always on the hunt for good Korean restaurants to check out.   I love Korean food and miss it so much. I've had a few opportunities to introduce some of my friends to Korean cuisine, who were just too intimidated to ever brave an authentic Korean restaurant.

Now this brings me back to my introductory sentence. A new opportunity, Korea related. 2013 is the fifty year anniversary between Korean Canadian relations. It is a big year and the Korean Consulate has many different events planned to celebrate and educate and promote Korea in general. A few weeks back I read about a contest they were holding in order to select 50 bloggers to be part of everything going on in 2013 and tell the world about it. The writer inside me got very excited. Yet another wonderful opportunity to connect me with Korea. Living in Toronto, I already have the advantage of proximity to such a huge part of the Korean population, so basically culture, food, music.... it's all at my doorstep.

So autumn has arrived, and with it I have infused myself with fresh incentive to get back into the swing of writing and blogging and do what I love to do (notice all the new September posts in my blog archive). I can't wait to get my posts rolling again and really hope I make the cut to blog for Korea in Canada! HAPPY READING!!

A Night At The Castle

*** PLEASE NOTE: this is an event that happened back in JULY but for technical reasons was never published on my blog. I know it's somewhat untimely, but it was such a beautiful evening I felt it necessary to put up. 

Last Friday, was the highly anticipated event "Rendezvous Korean Cuisine 2012", hosted by the Korean Consulate in Toronto. The venue was one of the best the city has to offer in my opinion, Casa Loma. I grew up just a few blocks away from the Castle, so it definitely holds a special place for me. It is a grande, majestic and lavish location to throw a party.

Welcome to Casa Loma
My boyfriend and I arrived fashionably late and things were well under way (no one and nothing was ever on time in Korea, I guess that trait didn't make it all the way to Canada). The main entranceway upon entering the castle was set up with different stalls sampling some of Korea's favourite bits and bites. The room was packed with people and within the first few minutes you could tell there was a great turn out and the night was destined for success.

Line ups to sample of the eats.

Korean food, on show. 

Peperro, amongst other goodies.

Chocopies, a Korean fave!

Posing with some ginseng.

We said our hello's to the Consul general and his wife, a few other friends from the  consulate, Cindy, another Korea blogger, and a small selection of familiar faces. Garry and I popped out onto the balcony just to appreciate the castle in its splendour. The grounds and gardens and fountains are so beautiful all around the property it was almost a shame not to be outside soaking it all in on such a gorgeous evening. But duty called.

Quite quickly following the small reception in the main hall the doors to the dining area were opened and peopled were called in to find their seats. We were assigned tables upon arrival and we were at lucky number 17. At our table were 2 people from the Japanese consulate. Cindy and her guest, a producer from Arirang Korea TV and his camera guy. We were an eclectic little bunch and it made the evening even more enjoyable.

As per the title of the event (Rendezvous Korean Cuisine 2012), the night was all about food, one of my favourite things about Korea. The dinner set up was gorgeous. There was one main dining room with a podium for the hosts and a small stage set up. There was also the conservatory where we sat, filled with more tables and TV screens set up to see the action from the main room. One of the best parts of attending these events is that I have my big camera with me at all times and I am free to roam (within reason) where I please. As a blogger, that's what I'm there to do. So even though technically I was seated in the conservatory. I was out and about shooting pics anywhere I saw fit. Especially during the special performances. Okay, one thing at a time, back to the food.

The menus we were provided with before the food started coming out was so beautifully detailed in Korean and English. I had a huge difficulty knowing the names of all the dishes I ate in Korea and being able to pronounce them properly. So it was a real treat to read what the Korean name of the dish was and the ingredients in English. Never was there a decent Korean meal served without the accompaniment of a slew of bottles of soju. I was curious to see if Korea's national alcohol would make it on the table at this fancy affair. Instead of soju, we were served bekseju, the best possible alternative. Soju and bekseju are similar drinks (in my humble opinion), but the latter has just a nicer, more pleasant, fragrant taste.

I had major camera envy for Mingu's equipment.

The first course to come out was pumpkin soup. After the soup came a plate of japchae (noodles with veggies) and a skewer of boneless beef rib, with crab meat, pepper, egg and mushroom.

The main course was braised beef ribs and steamed king prawn. These were accompanied by a mixture of vegetables. Korean meals are always served with plenty of banchan, side dishes. The banchan served was cabbage kimchi, braised lotus root, and a stuffed cucumber kimchi. No meal in ever complete without rice, or a rice dish, so the last course was bibimbap, a Korean classic. This is a combination of julienned vegetables (usually carrot, mushroom, sprouts, zucchini), combined with gojuchang  (red pepper paste), a few other flavours and egg. It's served separate and then combined together at the table. Fantastic! 


The main course. 

A favorite, bibimbap.

And last on the menu was dessert. There was a beautiful fruit salad/punch served with sweet rice balls.

Kom Bai!
(cheers in Korean)

Just Charlee: A Meal To Remember

At about this time last year, I took part in an amazing press trip to Jeju Island and Seoul with a small handful of other selected bloggers from The Korea Blog. It was trip to not only expose us to more of what Korea had to offer, but also to thank us for all the time and effort and work we put into our blogs, sharing our experiences of Korea with the world. On that trip I had one of my most memorable meals in all my time in Korea.

Just recently, I started writing for a great new online publication called Just Charlee ( I wrote all about that meal in an article on their website. Here is the link to both the article and then a separate photo gallery with some mouth watering snaps.




Arirang TV & 5 Minutes of Fame

Arirang is a very popular Korean folk song. It has lots of different versions both old and new. It is said to be like an unofficial anthem for Korea.

During one of the Korean events I attended in Toronto over the summer, I made a new friend Mingu Kim who is the producer of Arirang TV in Toronto. We sat at the same table as him and Young, one of his camera guys, who were covering Rendezvous Korea 2012, at Casa Loma.

We chatted all through the meal and towards the end of the evening he interviewed my boyfriend and I. We jumbled over our words and probably sounded silly but it was still lots of fun. Here is our 2 minutes in the spotlight. Be nice. Garry and I debut at about 1m55s.

A few weeks later, Mingu got in touch with me and told me about a TV series he was working on called, ALL ABOUT KOREA, for Omni TV. The premise behind the show was interviewing Canadians who love Korean culture. I most definitely fit the mould and said I'd love to be part of it. He ended up coming over with Young again, and filming a short segment asking me all about how I feel about Korea and my experiences and about my blog. This ones only about 5 minutes long.

So there we have it. Korea and my interest in it, has brought me 5 minutes of fame!

I also ended up introducing Mingu to a friend of mine from Korea, another teacher, to interview for his program. Here is her interview: