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Stuff boiling in broth, over charcoal or gas burner. Give me an earthenware pot. Or a nickel silver one, too. Ramen, peppers, bean curd, blowfish. Sit, stir, slurp, sweat. Sweat more.

Meat grilling over charcoal. That initial contact, that sizzle. Smoke rises, fat simmers. Tender bulgogi, juicy skirt steak. Grab meat with tong, place on grill, and "hear" the meat. Partake.

INL presents Part Two of our Korea food odyssey.

In GIF.

This gallery contains 37 photos.

A fourteen-hour trans-Pacific flight, into a country coming fresh off a presidential election that elected its first female dictator’s daughter as president. Record low temperatures throughout the trip, snow showers (gift of a white Christmas and New Year’s Day). All of this, our footsteps, our itinerary, our schedule, can be summed up in thirty-seven dishes. …

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When I worked for Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries, our camp truly thought she would clinch the Democratic nomination, and go on to win the presidency to become our first female president. That didn’t work out, but we did elect our first black president. Great ordeal and I’m mighty proud of it.

South Korea just elected its first female president, surprisingly before we did. This feat is to be congratulated on its face. Park Geun-hye – whether or not people actually think of her as a woman – is indeed a woman. Many take issue with the fact that she is the daughter of former dictator (yes, not president, not strongman, but dictator, say it loud and clear) Park Jung-hee. I, too, take some issue with that fact, although not as extremely as others. Although the former dictator did arguably lay the groundwork for Korea’s exponential economic growth, he did so by maintaining his power using undemocratic and illegal means, to say the least. I hardheartedly disagree with the notion of focusing on the past and on a candidate’s lineage (which she had minimal control over) instead of focusing strictly on policy issues moving forward. However, this point, in my view, was overlooked to a great extent.

What I do take serious issue with is the way in which this election cycle was conducted. I will not (yet) use the term “rigged”. I will, however, discuss one of many fishy incidents that has already thrown this election into murky waters.

Let’s coin this incident as “The Online Crusaders”. The Cliffnotes version of the story is this. Saenuri, the ruling party of president-elect Park, allegedly hired a protestant pastor and a number of part-time workers, with the sole mission of “rigging” the social media arena. The pastor and his minions allegedly posted tweets and replies under fake aliases, intentionally (and allegedly falsely) accusing candidate Moon Jae-in of various wrongdoings. In addition, Korea’s National Intelligence Service (counterpart to our FBI) allegedly had an entire office dedicated to fabricating social media messages in favor of Park and against Moon. And what the hell was that about the NIS employee locking herself in her Gangnam condominium for days while she was suspected of participating in these acts? NIS agents, supposedly the cream of the crop of Korea’s intelligence community, allegedly hired to sit in front of computer monitors to tweet. Simply embarrassing.

I use the term “allegedly” for all of this, as none of it have been proven in a court of law. But as a lawyer who has looked over Korean election laws, the work of the Online Crusaders – both the pastor and his minions, and the NIS – is a clear violation of the law, if proven to be true.

I take issue with this because these alleged illegal acts were discovered and reported just days before the election, leaving no time to dive into the facts and fully inform the voting public. Whether or not that would have affected the outcome is another question, to which I would personally answer in the negative. Now it seems that the NIS, the police, and even the federal prosecutor’s office is on merry terms with the Saenuri party, forcing an even darker cloud over the prospects of a clean investigation into the cold, hard facts.

In all honesty, I could care less about who is elected as Korea’s next president. None of this affects me personally. And I must say that I am not, and never was, impressed with either candidate, and that I am not Park-bashing in any sense.

But I am pissed that the rule of law has, once again, fallen flat on its face in my home country. I am pissed that the majority of Koreans don’t seem to give a shit about the rule of law. I am pissed that we may never know what really happened during and after the election. I am pissed that regional feelings still dominate the political dialogue of my home country. I am pissed that, throughout the election cycle, the focus has been on finger-pointing and on the past, not educated debates on policy issues to bring about genuine change (don’t get me started on the presidential debates).

The election is over and Korea has a new president-elect. Whining and pissing about the outcome does no good, so I hope Korea finds a way to mend broken bonds and move forward, for God knows the country has a mountain of problems. It may take years, decades for true democratic values (like clean elections) to take root in Korea. It takes more than a system, more than oversight committees and government bureaucrats. It takes a democratic “mindset” that values fair dealing and ethical procedures. It takes a democratic “mindset” that values the well-being of others as much as one’s own. It takes a democratic “mindset” that values the courage to do what’s right.

Democracy is still young in Korea.

So what do you know about kimchi?

Most of you have heard of it by now, maybe even tried it. Most likely at some Korean joint as a side dish, along with (I dare say) rather boring cuts of Korean “barbeque”. One thing in this disorganized and chaotic world is clear: Korean carnivorial culture is vastly understated and misunderstood. Misrepresented. That is a topic for another day. Today, we shed light unto a relatively unkown scene in kimchi culture – “gimjang”.

“Gimjang” is an annual familial (or communal) event, where folks gather to make fresh batches (and batches and batches) of kimchi. This tradition originated from times when refrigeration and greenhouse farming were non-existent. Vegetables used for kimchi – mainly, cabbage and radish – were harvested in the fall, and only in the fall. To stash away your vital supply of kimchi for the winter months (yes, I do mean vital), you had to act and act fast. Family and friends all came together, washing, soaking, chopping, sometimes over a few days. After makgulli and unbelievably delicious home-cooked meals here and there, the finished kimchi was placed in clay jars and buried underground. The science is similar to that of underground wine cellars; the cool earth would keep the kimchi refrigerated (but not frozen) for the months to come.

This scene is diminishing. At the very least, few people actually harvest their own cabbage and radish anymore for gimjang. More and more urban dwellers just buy their kimchi (available twenty-four months) at the local grocery chain. Understandably so, since kimchi-making, and especially the quantity involved in gimjang, is a pain in the ass.

I am proud to say that my grandparents still carry out this tradition. To the east of Seoul, on the doorsteps of the majestic Sorak Mountain, away from the bustling, smog-infested city, my grandparents live in a two-bedroom house they designed themselves. Yards away from their home, they have a patch of land – nothing grand but plentiful – to carry out their vegetation exercise. Cabbage, radish, cucumbers, peppers, shiso leaves and much more. Every November, they harvest their organic vegetables for gimjang, enough to feed themselves, aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends.

This is a chronicle of this tradition. A tradition that is becoming forgotten. A tradition that cannot be bought. The vivid images are the courtesy of my mom, a step-by-step memory of what is the only true way to make and taste kimchi.

* * *

Right in their front yard, my grandparents dry the radish leaves and stem. These are a staple in traditional Korean gastronomy, and can be consumed in many ways – chopped and used in kimchi, or further dried and used in many soup dishes. Nothing goes to waste. When times were tough, especially during the winter months when nothing was growing and there were no refrigerators to stash Hot Pockets, these were crucial to survival.

The harvest is here. Many parts of Korea were hit by severe drought and flooding this past year, but these managed to survive. Hundreds of cabbage, radish, green onions, chilies and much more. Everything is organic. They take “from garden to kitchen” literally; go to garden, chop cabbage, carry cabbage to kitchen. If cabbage could move, they would be squirming as they enter the kitchen’s slumber. Fresh has a different meaning out there in the mountains.

The quality of the cabbage is largely determined by the quality of its golden innards. The inside should be a bright, rich yellow, should be firm with a crunch and should have a sweet aftertaste. These are gorgeous. The halved cabbages need to be soaked in sea salt and water overnight. This maneuver both seasons and softens the cabbage. Mind you that this day was one of the coldest days of the year in Korea. Brave men and women. Looks warm in these shots, but sticking your hands in freezing saltwater is no joke. But all is worthwhile for the kimchi stash.

Day two. The salt-soaked cabbages are rinsed (in ice-cold water) and drained naturally. The cabbages are wilted but not soggy. In the first shot, you may notice – besides the rockstar beanies – the huge clay pots in the background. That is the lucky jackpot, holding homemade condiments. Chilli paste (gochujang), fermented bean curd (dwenjang) and soy sauce. You can’t buy this anywhere. Korean dishes live or die by the quality of these pastes and curds, and homemade organic is the best you will find, anywhere. I was told that my grandma even made her own fermented fish sauce for the kimchi. I love my grandma.

As those cabbages bathe luxuriously in the pristine sunlight, awaiting their massage of sexy, red seasoning and filling, the crew works tirelessly, julienning the radish, chopping the radish leaves and stem, in preparation of the red filling that will soon smother the wilted cabbage. They will be wed in holy matrimony, inseparable.

Tub-sized containers are a must to prepare the filling for the hundreds of cabbage that await their fate. The julienned and chopped radish and friends are tossed with red pepper flakes, loads of garlic, sea salt, homemade fermented fish sauce, and some other secret ingredients that I probably don’t remember. All that is held together by a white, serum-like rice paste. Serious upper body strength is involved here. Everything is tossed and tossed until the red is evenly distributed, resulting in a mound of heaping lava-like, salty and spicy creation that is probably delicious by itself with a steaming bowl of rice.

In the end, here is what my parents brought back for themselves. And there were many, many more containers left. Back at my parents’ place in Seoul, these cartons will be placed in refrigerators specially designed for kimchi – called “dimche” – where they will ferment and ripen at just the right tempo. Yes, there exists refrigerators made especially for kimchi. Again, just think back to wine coolers. Fermentation at different temperatures, for different durations, will affect how the kimchi ripens. There are even different temps and humidity levels for different types of kimchi, as cabbage is far from being the only main ingredient for the dish. The vast array of different kimchi dishes is another lesser-known aspect of Korean gastronomy.

After a cold, hard day’s work, this awaits.

Pork belly, boiled with bean curd and onions until buttery soft. A few edible herbs from the mountains, tossed lightly with sesame oil and salt, edible roots tossed in the same way. Bowls of cabbage and bean curd soup. And a whole plate of that kimchi, now cloaked in ruby red, made just minutes ago. Simple yet elegant. Straight to the core. A true workman’s lunch in the quiet, calm mountains of Korea.

Even the local cats know where to find their grub that day.

* * *

And that’s a wrap on kimchi. Done in tradition, done with family and friends, done right. Gimjang is a workman’s feast, a festive occasion where a year’s harvest, through sweat in the freezing mountain cold, is transformed into a dish that embodies the welcoming, earthy element of Korean culture.

The chronicle continues. I can’t wait to see what next November will bring.

Children, it seems, have always felt chronically repelled by my presence, more or less. I have nothing against children – especially when they’re three or four years old. Still cute and cuddly yet without too much mischief to cause a pain in the ass. I actually like children, and although it usually takes time, once they warm up to me, they (probably) like me too.

The year before law school, I was mentally at a loss. Confused, out of focus, blurred, foolish. Detached. I had no idea why I wanted to go to law school. I had no idea what to expect, and frankly, I didn’t care. I was teaching English in Seoul, making decent money, not a worry in sight. I was accepted to some no-name school in DC, but it was in the top tier, so I couldn’t complain, given my utter failure on the LSAT.

My shifts were from 6:30 am – 10:30 am, and from 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm. “Odd” is the least I will say about that schedule. Given all my free time during the day, I volunteered to teach an after-school English class at an elementary school in a poorer neighborhood in Seoul.

As an aside, Korean households spend an inexcusable amount of money on out-of-school English education, in addition to all the other out-of-school tutoring expenses, in preparation for the college entrance exams. This could very well be a future post, an exposure of the ridiculous English education system (and secondary education in general) of Korea.

These kids could not afford the hefty price tags on private English tutoring, so we brought our classes to them. I was in charge of ten or so fourth-graders. Adorable. Absolutely delightful. Loud, obnoxious, annoying at times – all of that was true. But I had a blast. Many of these kids were living below the poverty line, some even had head lice. If it wasn’t for the after-school programs, most of them would either be home alone or wander the streets, for there was no one at home to care for them.

Let’s just say that the lessons were not on the forefront. On a good day, we would go through about half of the material I prepared. The rest of our time was spent laughing, at everything and about everything. These kids were so bright and full of life, as if life’s hardships have not yet left a permanent dent in their beings, their souls. If I had one goal during my tenure there, if I could instill one takeaway point in all my lessons, it would be to implant and encourage the hope that they could blossom into anything they imagined.

So, as I ran by a group of toddlers after escaping the office on Halloween night – zebra, pumpkin, hamburger, they were all there – I reminisced those days. Our games, our crafts, our pictures, our ice cream. Our laughs. I wonder where they are now, what they are doing. Are they still in school? How are their studies? How has life treated them? In the midst of societal and familial chaos, I pray my children have the guts to dream on, to hope, to strive, and to not take no for an answer. I pray that they may take life by its horns and laugh at its face.

I miss my kids.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou –

Agreed. Humankind learns from history, the goal of which is to not repeat our errors and to form a better future than our past. And agreed. Not repeating history takes enormous courage and sacrifice, both political and personal. One may argue that it is a choice, made consciously to not repeat and relive what one deems unproductive and atrocious, a choice that one may unconsciously believe to be made independently with not divine intervention of time and its surroundings.

But history repeats itself. Hence, Winston Churchill famously said, “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” The current repetition is best described as a series of uprisings. Although the degree, form and purpose differ vastly across continents, an overlap exists: the “commoners” demand to be heard.

Post first World War Egypt was changing rapidly, particularly its social and economic settings. New industries were developing, a different capital flow was coming in, and most importantly, the commoners, who were mostly slaves in the past, were awakening to realize their enslaved hardships. Literacy rates were at an all-time high, and means of communication, although still sluggish, were rapidly improving, allowing information and ideas to flow freely throughout the country. This synergy created a seething bond, a nation, resulting in an uproar for individual freedom and democracy.

A century later, modern Egypt birthed another uproar. The story sounds eerily similar; freedom suppressed for decades by a dictator, improved communication webs enabling the free-flow of ideas, and most importantly, commoners realizing their depressed current states and doing something about it. This wildfire has spread with bushfire speed, and has engulfed Syria for the past fourteen months. Syria indeed is on the extreme end; thousands of civilians have lost their lives. However, the pattern of revolt is nothing new.

No literal bloodshed yet, but a similar pattern is detected in South Korea. A formidable potential candidate has emerged in the race for the Blue House. Dr. Ahn Chul Soo, currently a professor at Seoul National University and formerly the founder of Ahn Lab, the first company to create and distribute computer vaccines in Korea, is riding a tidal wave strong enough to shake the foundations of the political establishment. What is striking is that Dr. Ahn has no political experience to speak of, and that he has not even formally declared his candidacy. What he has done for the past decade is simple: connect. Whether or not his motives are genuine, Dr. Ahn has become the symbol for what the Korean commoners want in their president. Someone who embodies two-way communication, someone who is genuinely concerned for the well-being of the common, and not thrashed around by the current establishment dominated by wealthy conglomerates.

Freedom does not endure. Fantasize all you want, but history does not lie. A once-successful uproar brings about a period of liberties, and the commoners thrive and rejoice. That period is almost always followed by a dictator, albeit in different forms and figures. The commoners are subdued once more, until another spark ignites the courage and necessity to realize and fulfill one’s destined freedom.

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