What a week this has been! I’ve had more articles published, plunged naked into hot baths on a sweltering thirty degree day, and radically expanded the category of what I consider to be food. It's hard to believe that I'm nearly halfway through my interning experience at The Korea Herald, but hopefuly the next couple of weeks will be as fun as this one now that I've found my feet in Seoul.
The Cheonggyecheon Stream is one of the places where I have found my feet, here during a lunch break. Photo by Nick Gowland
Two weeks down, four more articles published. The past five working days have been long ones, but I am more than satisfied with what I have accomplished. Before I began here at The Korea Herald, the thing I was most anxious about was that I would simply have nothing to do. My pre-departure briefing and my conversations with past Korea Herald interns Astha and Kate left me with the impression that interning at the paper was an entirely gloves-off experience, where you had to make your own work or risk being forgotten. Unfortunately I only had a little over a month to prepare for this trip, and that month just so happened to contain the University of Sydney’s final exam period. This meant that most of the free time I had was spent taking care of flights, accommodation and various housekeeping necessities, with little time left over for researching story ideas.
My first article published in The Korea Herald's print edition. I also wrote the top brief on the left. Photo by Nick Gowland
I have been exceedingly lucky to have been placed with an editor here who not only gives me stories to pursue, but also the opportunity to work on proofreading and copy editing, so my days are never empty. The past week has provided invaluable experience in pragmatic journalism: my work has required me to search for contacts, negotiate and conduct interviews, forage for press photographs and even deal with copyright issues (thank you, MECO3603). To be fair, most of my published work so far has been simple news briefs, but I now have two independently pitched and researched articles up online, one of which even made it into the print edition on Wednesday. I have two new stories underway right now: one about the game of cricket in Korea, and the other about this guy, who has gone viral over here after busking in Korean in the exceptionally quiet Seoul subway. I am as happy as a haejjanguk ox-blood soup (a dish I am yet to sample).
Namsangol Traditional Hanok Village in Seoul. Unlike the jjimjilbang, it is unacceptable to get naked here. Photo by Nick Gowland
On Saturday morning I ventured out to the foreigner enclave of Itaewon with fellow Australia–Korea Foundation fellows Brendan Day and Isobelle Waller to visit Itaewon Land Bathhouse. Known as jjimjilbang in the local tongue, these stalwarts of Korean culture usually contain not only baths, but also saunas, ice rooms, massage parlours, restaurants, internet cafés, arcade games, movie theatres and, in our case, an entire floor of capsule style bunk-beds. The jjimjilbang, which are generally open 24 hours a day, are especially popular with Korean businessmen who sleep there after a night on the town to sweat out the soju. After paying a small entry fee we changed into the bathhouse's standard issue pyjamas, then went upstairs to sit in a 50 degree hotbox (only 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature!) and nibble on sauna-baked eggs and sikhye.
After working up a nice lather of sweat, Brendan and I parted ways with Isobelle and set off towards our single-sex bathing area. Once there, we stripped out of sweat stained pyjamas and took a brief shower, before plunging into baths of various temperatures and mineral infusion. Getting your kit off in front of a dozen or so Korean men of all shapes and sizes is perhaps a little on the intimidating side, and I luckily had the benefit of having experienced a jjimjilbang when I visited Korea two years ago. Brendan, however, experienced his first ever taste of public bathhouse nudity, and I think it took him a few minutes before he knew where to look.
Picture unrelated to jjimjilbang: according to Wikipedia, spoon fish are also often referred to as penis fish. Photo by Isobelle Waller
On Sunday our hostel’s hospitable owner Oazzang took us out for Korean hoe (sashimi) to celebrate the end of Isobelle's internship at the television station KBS. We chowed down on sea cucumber (the texture of gristle with the taste of the ocean) and extremely phallic spoon worms, but the highlight of the table was the infamous sannakji, or live octopus. The dish consists of live baby octopuses which are cut up and served immediately alongside a sesame dipping sauce. I guess the animal is technically quite dead by this stage, but that doesn’t stop its little tentacles from writhing spasmodically for the duration of the meal. Koreans believe that fresher seafood has greater health benefits, and it doesn’t get much fresher than these squirming suckers.
A still frame does not do justice to how much these things wriggled. Photo by Nick Gowland
Of course, sannakji is also infamous for the choking hazard posed by suction cups which can attach to the throat, and the dish has even been responsible for deaths. Our host Oazzang told us the trick is to chew it as fast as possible, so the suckers don’t get a chance to latch on to your uvula. Even then, the wriggling masses still managed to grab on to my teeth and cheeks, and had to be dislodged with sharp pokes of the tongue. It’s all a bit upsetting if you think about it too much, and luckily we didn’t have to thanks to the abundant shots of soju, which washed everything down. As to the taste of the tentacles, I was chewing too feverishly to notice anything. The sauces were really good, though.