On January 19th, 2021, I got the news that my favorite kpop group, Got7, had officially departed from their label, JYP Entertainment.
I meant to write about it because it was a huge thing, but I either couldn’t find the time or simply didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t a disbandment, this wasn’t a member or two not renewing their contract… the entire group just decided to part ways with their label.
As far as I know, nothing like this has happened in kpop. You’ve had groups that have sued for their contracts to be nullified before renegotiating their rights to a new company (Block B), and you’ve had groups where individual members have departed (there are too many of those to list here), and sued and departed (there are also too many of those to list here), and you’ve had one group launch their own label and rename themselves (Highlight, formerly Beast) but to have an entire group just… pop off was something new.
Got7 turned around and dropped a new single on us shortly after the news, appropriately titled, “Encore.”
Now, I won’t be one of those wide-eyed, naive kpop fans. I know that the likelihood of me going to a Got7 concert with all members present is now a pipe dream. With each member being picked up by different agencies, we get to see the members blossom into their own while remaining part of the group–a group that transcends record labels, a group of 7 ridiculously talented, good-looking, and altogether weird guys. Unlike a lot of kpop groups, these guys seem like they’ve created a family.
And from what we’ve seen of the guys in 2021, I think they’ll do just fine on their own.
Everything about you was a gift Remember that Right now too, all of you
We will sing for you We will sing for you Encore! Encore!
This past Saturday marked the 4th anniversary of the death of one of kpop’s brightest stars, Kim Jonghyun. We still hold space for his spirit; we still listen to his music when we’re feeling lonely at the end of a hard day.
This Kpop Music Monday is Lee Hi’s “Breathe,” which Jonghyun wrote for her.
There is another, harder to watch version I’ve linked below, a special stage at the 32nd Golden Disc Awards that sees Lee Hi have to break away from singing to compose herself before continuing the song.
Lyrics from azlyrics.com:
Take a deep breath Until both sides of your heart get numb Until it hurts a little Let out your breath even more Until you feel Like there’s nothing left inside It’s alright if you run out of breath No one will blame you It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes Because anyone can do so Although comforting by saying it’s alright Are just words
Someone’s breath. That heavy breath How can I see through that? Though I can’t understand your breath It’s alright I’ll hold you
It’s alright if you run out of breath No one will blame you It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes Because anyone can do so Although comforting by saying it’s alright Are just words
Someone’s breath. That heavy breath How can I see through that? Though I can’t understand your breath It’s alright I’ll hold you
Even if others think your sigh Takes out energy and strength I already know That you had a day that’s hard enough To let out even a small sigh Now don’t think of anything else Let out a deep sigh Just let it out like that
Someone’s breath. That heavy breath How can I see through that? Though I can’t understand your breath It’s alright I’ll hold you You really did a good job
If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out to a trusted friend or family member. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
88rising “provides not only the cultural support, but also the strategic and technical know-how to help emerging Asian artists cross over in an efficient but meaningful way.”
The reason I’m posting about this song for Music Monday is quite simply because it’s a total bop and has been on repeat on my playlist ever since I discovered it. Bibi has a beautiful, unique voice, and I’ve enjoyed pastreleases of hers.
And in case you want to listen to “The Weekend” again, check out this alternative official music video:
Apparently I have made it my quest to visit all the Blue Bottles in Korea. I have been to the one in Gwanghwamun Square and on Jeju Island, so it was only appropriate that I introduce the new teachers to Blue Bottle in a new-to-me location: Samcheong.
“In the heart of Seoul’s historic Samcheong neighborhood, our three-story cafe all but shapeshifts as you climb its floors. Conceived by Schemata Architects, each level is as much about the breathtaking views as it is about coffee. The stand alone building is set between past and future: the Gyeongbokgung Palace of the Joseon Dynasty on one side, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on the other. The ground floor offers a view of the museum. After you place your order there, you can head to the second floor, where baristas prepare pour overs and espresso drinks, and where the picture window frames the sweeping lines of the terracotta-tiled roofs of the hanoks, traditional Korean homes. Take your coffee to-go and meander the labyrinthine surrounding streets, or head to the third floor. There, on the outdoor patio on low-slung couches or inside by the topmost picture window, you can enjoy a siphon coffee or take in the panorama of the palace and the soaring hills beyond.”
I get what they were going for, and it’s true: one can easily peer out the windows onto the rooftops of hanoks, but it’s a bit annoying having to order on the first floor and walk upstairs to get your beverages, and then walk up another flight of stairs to (maybe, if you’re lucky) find a seat. Seats here aren’t plentiful but if you wait around long enough, a spot or two might open up. Good luck watching a barista prepare your siphon coffee though–I’m not sure what the protocol is here if you order one and there already happens to be someone sitting in front of them. (At Mint Plaza, we would kindly ask if guests would move so the siphon-buyer could get the most out of the experience.)
I confused the barista because I ordered two drinks. No, really. I want two coffees. First, a pour-over, because pour-overs are what Blue Bottle does best. Second, since the location has oat milk, I’m going to get a latte, and this location had an orange blossom latte that I decided to try because Blue Bottle doesn’t serve your typical caramel-mocha-praline-hazelnut-frappa-gatos. (Rumor is they never planned on selling mochas, but after adding chocolate to the menu to make hot chocolate, they couldn’t ignore customers’ cries to sell a mocha. For what it’s worth, Blue Bottle mochas are my go-to, because they make their own chocolate ganache in-house with Tcho chocolate and it is delicious.)
The Guatemalan pour-over I had iced would have been better hot, but the orange blossom latte was surprisingly really well-made. The orange blossom flavor fit with the espresso in a very nice way that balanced out the acidity of the espresso and the brightness of the orange flavor. It was tasty.
The space is bright and inviting and it was certainly busy when we went. We had to wait about ten minutes until we found a spot where we could sit on the first floor. There was a steady stream of guests that day and the baristas seemed equipped to handle the volume, even my sudden realization that despite asking the cashier if they had oat milk, I forgot to actually order my latte with oat milk and had to go back to the cashier on the first floor and change my order and had her run to the second floor to ensure my drink was made with oat milk. Whew. If only there was a better way to communicate to the baristas on the second floor.
You know it’s 김장 (kimjang) season, the time when kimchi is made in large batches to last throughout the winter, when you see the following outside every market:
For a cooking exercise with our kindergarten students, we made 깍두기 (Kkakdugi), radish kimchi. Obviously they can’t use real knives, so their task was cutting pre-cut strips of radish into small cubes with plastic knives.
Here’s our steps for radish kimchi!
red pepper powder
minced ginger and minced garlic
chopped green onion
a pinch of salt (not pictured)
After you’ve cubed the radish, apply a good helping of the red pepper powder:
Mix the red pepper powder with the radish:
And continue adding the rest of the ingredients:
Mix all that up and you’ve got your radish kimchi! It tastes delicious fresh, but let it sit overnight in a sealed container to really become delicious!
Instagram knows that I like cafés, and one day it recommended a Godzilla-themed café that I instantly put on my to-visit list. Surprisingly, I happened to be in the area the very next day and made Mary trek out to visit it after we visited the Trick Eye Museum (underwhelming, to be honest) and the Love Museum (erm, over… something, it’s definitely something).
Café Ookii has a “no kids” policy and for good reason: the walls are lined with Gojira toys spanning all evolutions and editions of the well-known *checks kaiju wiki* “Irradiated Prehistoric Amphibious Creature.”
I ordered an iced americano, which was passable, and couldn’t resist one of their massive kaiju cupcakes which was mostly just icing. In retrospect, I wish I would have gone with one of their cutely designed cookies instead.
Two things of note happened while we were there: 1, I discovered that the woman who had swapped out my conch stud for a ring had managed to close the ring around the strap of my mask (which thankfully was a disposable one I could cut at home), and 2, a young man, obviously drawn to the Godzilla-aspect of the café, came in and struck up an intense conversation with the owner and barista.
If you’re in Hongdae, take a trip out to see this unique café!
My co-teacher Mary and I went for a quick trip to Jeju Island for summer vacation (which was only three working-days off). Jeju, for those of you who don’t know, is a Korean island located to the southwest of the mainland and is a popular resort island. Because of travel restrictions due to Covid, Jeju Island has become even more popular this year for Korean tourists who normally might have considered Guam, Japan, or the Philippines as their vacation spot.
The flight was only an hour long, but by the time we reached our hotel in Jeju it was after 5pm and we were beat. We ordered pizza and I ran a bath–something that came with my upgraded “couples” room. It was totally worth the extra cost. I used the Temple of the Sky Lush bath bomb.
On Sunday, we went to the Manjanggul Cave, which has an impressive lava tube that is accessible for about a kilometer underground and ends with a stone pillar that is the largest in the world. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t so busy watching my feet as the floor was both uneven (thanks, lava) and wet. There were some wooden bridges over the more uneven parts, but even still, I trekked slowly and was amazed at how many people blew past me wearing flip-flops or even, in one case, platform flip-flops. The lava tube takes about an hour in and back, and going back was certainly easier than going down, although I was wheezing after climbing back up the stairs at the beginning.
What was not lost on me was the fact that there were several handicap parking spots out in front of the entrance and a ramp for wheelchairs, although the cave is completely inaccessible for wheelchair users and many others who have walking problems.
There was a memorial outside the cave that read, “Bu Jonghue and young expedition party: In 1946, Mr. Bu was a teacher at Gimnyeong Elementary School. He and 30 of his students set out to go spelunking without proper equipment. They only had a few torches and wore straw shoes. However, they were well organized into three groups each in charge of the torch, supplies, and measuring the cave. Manjanggul Lava Tube had become known to the public thanks to their numerous expeditions. It was a remarkable achievement of Mr. Bu and his little explorers, which was led with tenacity and an adventurous spirit. Mr. Bu named the cave using the word “Man” meaning long and the word “Jang” come [sic] from the name of third entrance “Manjaengi Geomeol.”
Ah, the 1940s, when you could still take your 10-year-old students spelunking without the proper equipment.
After the cave, we went to visit the recently opened Blue Bottle, located in the middle of nowhere. Having just opened on the 30th of July, there was still a queue and we had a lot of confusion about where to stand, as the information was not explained very well in English. A couple in front of us turned around and showed us their phone, asking if we had made a reservation. When we nodded our heads, they showed us how to make a reservation on an iPad that was on the other side of the line we were waiting in. Our wait from that point on was half an hour, but it would have been much longer had that couple not taken pity on the foreigners who had no idea what they were doing, so thank you kind souls!
Despite the long wait, we were able to get seats after about ten minutes. Blue Bottle is an excellent example of why cafes shouldn’t have wifi–if there were people camping out all day, sales would suffer and people would get annoyed at the lack of available seating. Without wifi, people come in, have a drink, and then leave, creating a much-needed turnover. But I digress.
Blue Bottles everywhere are all the same and yet all different. As each cafe is designed for the space in which it exists, this Blue Bottle had a beautiful open window into the Jeju countryside and a barn-like structure with a high, triangular ceiling fit with strips of lighting. All of the chairs and tables were that recognizable light wood, and there was built-in cabinetry under all of the display shelves.
I ordered an iced mocha with oat milk, a blueberry fizz, and a piece of chocolate pound cake as they were sold out of the liege waffle. Mary ordered the lemon yuzu fizz and a scone. I assisted a woman behind us who basically asked what all the fuss was about and what she should order. I sincerely hope her drinks lived up to the Blue Bottle name and was worth her wait.
I also bought two bags of the Jeju Blend coffee, which has notes of mandarin orange, rose, and caramel. I am excited to try it!
For dinner on Sunday, we went to a spot along Black Pork Street. The black pig is a domestic breed native to Jeju Island, and apparently was kept as a means to dispose of human waste up until the mid-century. In the restaurant we chose, the worker refused to let us just buy one portion of pork belly as we were two people (but Mary doesn’t like pork so she wasn’t going to eat it) but that ended up being just fine as I ate enough for two and also had an entire bottle of beer myself.
Normally I don’t like the fatty bits on meat and will sometimes leave it on my plate at lunch. However, black pig fat makes me understand how some people say that fat “melts in the mouth.” The skin was chewy, and the meat was juicy. The attending kimchi was perfectly sour instead of mind-numbingly spicy, which I prefer, and the ssamjang was excellent on the perilla leaves, which normally I do not like as it tastes too much like herb (it’s related to the mint family). I dipped the perilla leaf into the ssamjang, dipped the pork into a little mixture of salt and pepper and oil, added a string of kimchi, a little rice, wrapped it all up and ate it for one amazing flavor bomb unlike any other. It was easily one of the best meals I’ve had.
That night I ran another bath, this time using the Rose Jam Bubbleroon. In retrospect, I probably should have broken it in half as the entire bar made a bit too many bubbles.
On Monday, we went to the Gwaneumsa Buddhist temple, the oldest on Jeju Island. This wasn’t the temple we were going to originally see, but one that was closer to us so we decided to visit it instead. After the first gate, you’re greeted with a large statue of the Lord Buddha off to the left, and if you continue further ahead, there’s a beautiful path lined with hundreds of various Buddha statues, most holding prayer beads that worshippers have given to the statues.
Further on, there is a small cave. By this time, it had started to drizzle a bit, and upon entering the small cave, one was taken aback by just how incredibly warm the cave was, owing to the hundreds of candles that had been lit inside. (Don’t worry: there was a fire extinguisher inside as well.)
There was a giant gold Maitreya Buddha statue, behind which were thousands of smaller Buddhas. There was the pot-bellied, laughing Buddha of wealth with some coins sitting atop his belly. There was a Buddha statue in the middle of a pond with a small bridge atop a goose’s body. It was a very lovely temple site, with a rich history that tells of Korea’s tumultuous past, as well as the tumultuous path of Buddhism in Korea.
And just like that, the two days in Jeju were over. We left early Tuesday morning as we had to be back at work Wednesday. It was way too soon, in my opinion, but still a relaxing and interesting break. It was the first “proper” vacation that I’ve had since moving to Korea and I plan to make my way to Jeju another time and checking in a cart of fruit for the flight home like all the other Korean tourists.
One thing I really enjoyed was how Jeju does its contact tracing program. We have to pull up our QR code in the KakaoTalk app and scan it in, which sometimes takes several tries. In Jeju, after we downloaded the app, we essentially took a picture of the QR code the business had, and our phones would beep right away. It was much easier to use.
On Saturday, the director picked up the foreign teachers at my hagwon and drove us to the vaccination center, which seemed like some sort of general meeting area that had been cordoned off into different sections for the vaccination process.
The vaccine roll-out did not go smoothly as planned, as many foreigners complained that “glitches” in the system didn’t allow them to register for the vaccine. Fortunately, our director handled our registering so we were all registered and given vaccination dates and times based around our ages. We were able to go all at once to get injected instead of going at various times throughout the week.
We got to the center around 8:30 and were out by 9:40. We were given disposable gloves and had our temperature taken by a machine that you put your hand under and it dispenses hand sanitizer as well as taking your temperature (we have the same one at school now). We filled out some forms and were given a number and sat down in some seats that were socially distanced from one another. I was number 51. There were a lot of high schoolers in the center, as well as delivery drivers, who had all parked their delivery trucks in the parking lot.
They called the numbers and you saw someone that went over the form with you and sent you into the next room, where you sat again and waited to see yet another person who went over your forms. From there, you moved a little further into the room and finally saw a nurse.
The injection itself is a piece of cake, and we were given a sticker with a time on it and sent to sit in another part of the conference room with a projected clock that must’ve been at least ten feet tall. At your designated time, you could take off your now sweaty gloves and leave the center.
I had some minor muscle pain later that day, but nothing since. We’ll go back sometime mid-August to get the second dose. We all received Pfizer which were part of a vaccine swap with Israel.
As far as everything else goes, South Korea has seen a huge jump in number of positive Covid-19 cases, and our level is now a 4. Under it, places must close at 10 pm and there can only be a gathering of two people after 6 pm. Oh, and gyms can’t play music with a bpm higher than 120. That’s a bit ridiculous, but oh well.
I hope everyone is keeping safe and continuing to wear masks and socially distancing!
My friend Nora took Mary and I on a super exciting trip for my birthday back in January. Up first was a stop at Greem Café, also known as that instagrammable cartoon café in Korea.
We ordered breakfast and drinks and everything was lovely. We got two free mugs because we ordered a certain amount, but I was a little disappointed that they weren’t the mugs that were being used in the cafe. (I would have paid extra for one of those 2D mugs.)
My advice would be to go when they open, as once they get busy, your instagram shots are going to be harder to take since you can’t roam around the cafe.
We got up early and our director took us to the testing place, a parking lot across the street from a health clinic. They had set up several tents and were very thorough. You got a pair of disposable gloves while waiting in line (socially distanced of course) and wore them throughout the entire ordeal, which involved going and filling out some minor paperwork to being handed the two vials and ushered up to a booth where a health professional stood, only their gloved arms protruding from two holes.
The test was not like the test I’ve heard some people in the US have gotten. This was not a mere nasal swab; this was a brain poking. I was honestly shocked that someone could stick something that far back into my sinuses. It wasn’t painful, just really uncomfortable.
All of us tested negative, fortunately, and it was back to business as usual.
The question that has always lingered in my mind is: what happens if one of the students gets Covid?
Unfortunately, a little over two weeks ago, a student did test positive, albeit asymptomatic. Her father had tested positive and when they tested the entire family, she was the only one who also tested positive.
I feel really bad for this student because she had already missed two weeks of school because there had been a positive case at her elementary school, and now she would be missing yet another two weeks of school.
It was determined that only a few of us would get a Covid test: her immediate classmates (there were three) and her two teachers, which included myself. CCTV footage showed that she and her classmates remained masked up the entire time they were at the hagwon, which no doubt helped keep everyone safe.
We were closed Wednesday through Friday of that week, and on Wednesday I went by myself to get tested for Covid again. I had been informed that the center opened at 9 but when I got there at 9:30, I discovered that they actually open at 10, so I was the first in line to get swabbed. It went super quick and was only a little more uncomfortable than the last time.
Fortunately, everyone tested negative and we could open up school the following Monday.
This week we closed Wednesday through Friday because the neighboring town of Okjeong has a massive outbreak involving at least 20 students in a high school. There was also an outbreak in the neighborhood of Hongdae in Seoul that was linked to foreign instructors, including one at another branch of the hagwon I teach at. That outbreak was confirmed to be of the Delta variant.
I’m hoping that all of this can be held at bay and we can reopen on Monday–if not all the way, then at least kindergarten can be in person and we can do online classes in the afternoon. With every day that the school is closed, we lose one day of our holidays, and as selfish as it is, I don’t want to have to lose my summer holiday that I’ve been looking forward to (as I didn’t have any holidays last year because of Covid).