Monday, 25 February 2013

Daniel Day-Lewis: The Last Of The Greatest Actors?

I thought of borrowing the title of today's blog from one of his movies, The Last of the Mohicans, where, when he was filming it, he stayed true to the lifestyle of a native American Indian by "surviving for days on a 3,000-acre expanse of the Alabama wilderness", according to TIME.  And while filming My Left Foot, for which he won his first best actor Oscar, he didn't want to get up from his wheelchair even during breaks.
That's Daniel Day-Lewis, the world's greatest actor, who just won his third best actor Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards. In this category, nobody has won three before. Until today.

He won his second best actor Oscar for his 2007 film, There Will Be Blood, and today, he won his third for Lincoln, portraying America's greatest president.

The quality of his performances is always above everyone else. He's so good, I consider him the male version of Meryl Streep, who incidentally, presented him his best actor Oscar at the ceremonies. Meryl, by the way, also has three Oscars: two best actress and one best supporting actress.

That's why when they announced the nominees for his category, I already knew he'd win even though I haven't seen his movie yet. Hugh Jackman was very good in Les Miserables, and according to my friend Roselyn, who lives in Hollywood (and who I think is a voting member of the Academy), Denzel Washington's performance in Flight was also very good. But the Academy usually votes for those who portray real people. Colin Firth as King George VI, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Jamie Foxx at Ray Charles and Geoffrey Rush as David Helfgott, to name a few. They all won. It's quite risky for an actor to portray a real person. But if he could pull it off, the Oscar trophy awaits!

Let's not forget last year's big winner, Meryl Streep, who played Margaret Thatcher. And today, Day-Lewis joked that Steven Spielberg's first choice for Lincoln was actually Meryl, and not him.

So, if you haven't seen Daniel Day-Lewis' other films, do watch them because you'll be watching a legend. But in the meantime, I await Lincoln to be shown at the CGV Cinema in my neighborhood and the replay of the 85th Academy Awards on TV. 

PS. I hope Channel CGV does not chop-chop the replay of the three-hour Oscar awards again. Last year, they reduced it into a one-hour show by cutting out most of the segments. Why do Channel CGV people do this? Lazy to write the English subtitles, perhaps? Hmm...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Best Seolleong-tang Is In Mapo-Gu!

These days, going out during this very chilly winter for lunch doesn’t seem funny.  If I had to expose myself to frostbite and hypothermia, the meal better be worth it!  So, when my friend David suggested that we go to this very good restaurant, I thought the trip may be actually worth the risk.   

So, we took a quick drive on his car down to Mapo-gu, near that main road that leads to the Mapo Bridge. It was actually just a ten-minute drive as Mapo-gu is just nearby.

And hanging at the door of the restaurant is the Excellence in Food Safety sign by the Seoul city government, which is a guarantee that this restaurant uses only the best ingredients for its dishes and that their preparation is clean. 

The restaurant is located on the second and third floors of the building. And lucky for us, we were able to get a table at the second floor. Had we arrived a few minutes later, we would have had to go up to the third floor to enjoy a meal. 

We immediately ordered what we came here for - seolleong-tang! And glancing at the other customers' orders, I realized they also came for the same thing!

And when our orders came, delivered on rolling trays by the Korean ladies, I was now face to face with the dish we traveled for! Looking at the hot stone pot, the soup was up to the brim and covered with sliced onions! Its broth, made with the flavors of ox bones, was filled with brisket, or thick meat slices, which were so tender and savory to the bite. The meat must have been from beef with highest quality. I think that was their secret - using only the choicest beef for their seolleong-tang! No wonder this restaurant is so popular, notwithstanding the pricey tag of their premium dish!

I added salt and black pepper to the broth, which made it more to my taste. With the beef that was so soft, its flavors overwhelmed my palate after a couple of grinds. The mixture of savory beef, onions, pepper and other spices in a broth of ox bones, which must have been boiled for hours, was really worth the trip!
Thanks to David for this trip and lunch(!), I now know where to get the best seolleong-tang in Seoul! I better not forget to turn right on that street immediately before the Mapo Bridge, if I was coming from Mapo Station's Exit 1. On that street, I just simply look to my left and look for that Excellence in Food Safety sign, and I would be a few steps away from the best seolleong-tang

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

"Snow Should Only Be In Postcards!"

That's what I was babbling about when I made my way home one Sunday night from my trip to the special winter Olympics as my path was being covered with thick snow. This was a blizzard of sorts in the city and everyone was careful on the snow! To paraphrase a popular quote, a journey of a few hundred meters (to my home), began with the first slippery step!  
                                 (The heavy snow kept these gas station 
                            attendants busy all night)

Cars and buses on the road slowed down and the pedestrians walked even slower.  Both machines and humans were not in control of their paths that night. The weather was! It was either they'd skid, slip or break something.

                                             (Dirty sidewalk, dirty shoes)
                            (Slushy, slippery and dirty)

Me? I had no choice but to be patient, listen to the crushed snow under my shoes at every step, and just try to enjoy the snowy chaos!
                       (If fresh snow isn't swept, it turns into slippery ice)

This is the nasty side of winter. Heavy snow on the sidewalk and you have to walk through it! For those who haven't experienced winter, yes, snow looks pretty and nice on postcards, but jeez, if its messes with your daily routine, you won't look at snow the same way ever again. Ha-ha-ha!  Snow is actually frozen water. So, if heavy rainfall brings flood, heavy snowfall brings slippery sidewalks and dirty shoes.
                                         (I woke up to this winter postcard)
                 (Everything looks cute and white from the window)

Going back to postcard-perfect snow. 

It's always nice to wake up to a snowed morning when you look out your window and you see an all-white neighborhood. But the idea of a winter wonderland remaings just right there - a scenery from your window. Because when you go out of your house and head down to work, the term 'when hell freezes over' gets another meaning. Ha-ha-ha!
               (A red jacket snow sweeper in the neighborhood)
                                (My neighbors' homes covered in snow)
               (A lady measuring up her shadow in the snow)

Well, I wish snow would only be in postcards. But since it has to spill onto the sidewalks and into our daily routines, let's just make sure we don't slip, we don't fall and most of all, we don't forget that snow always melts and will go away by spring! 
                                            (Kids playing in the snow)
                     (Lying on the snow on their school uniforms?)

Friday, 15 February 2013

Poog-Eo For Lunch, Anyone?

On that block opposite the Lotte Hotel near the Myeong-dong area, are alleys upon alleys of restaurants and cafes. It's like a labyrinth where you have to get lost first before you get rewarded with a happy meal.
And that's what my friend JK and I did. We meandered through the alleyways in order to find one of the most popular restaurants in the block! A poog-eo restaurant!

Poog-eo is actually dried pollack, and this restaurant serves it in a soup with rice! JK told me that this dish is actually good for those with hangover. But I wondered whether all these office people lining up to get a seat were all drunk the night before? Ha-ha-ha!

Or maybe just like me, they just want to have this dish for lunch today!

We had to wait for a few minutes to get a table. Luckily, the weather outside was not as freezing as the winter week before. But standing and waiting to be seated just added a little bit excitement (and hunger!) as the queue was just next to the window where I could see the cooks preparing the dish.
This restaurant doesn't serve any other dish, only poog-eo. And the customer turnover is fast! Even though you could get seconds! I guess it's because everyone was rushing back to work. Or maybe, everyone was just cured of their hangover! Ha-ha-ha!
So, next time you have a hangover to get rid of, or when you simply want to have a hot soup of dried pollack, you know where to head to. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

ZE:A, N-TRAIN And UKISS In The Snow... and at the Snow Music Festival, that is.
Now, for the first time this year, this piece is definitely for K-pop fans. I don't usually write about this genre as my life in Seoul rarely sideswipes K-pop, although over the years, I have seen a few K-pop artists up close and even met a few of them. I'm not exactly the type who'd pay to watch a K-pop concert. All these encounters with K-pop stars were all for free.

Continuing on with our K-Performance Supporters' trip to the PyeongChang county, organized by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO).

After our visit to the 2013 PyeongChang Special Winter Olympics at Alpensia Resort, our bus headed to the Hanwha Resort nearby at Bongpyeong-myeong, still in PyeongChang County in Gangwon Province. But before going straight to the resort, we stopped by the Puchon Restaurant for an early dinner. And just like our hearty korean-chinese lunch earlier that day, this meal was as filling as it was spicily delicious! I wondered, did I really have to go to the country to have this tasty food? Or am I just being lucky to have been able to visit these restaurants that serve flavorful cuisines?

  I was craving to have a hot cafe mocha after our heavy dinner, but since we were in the middle of nowhere, no cafe was in sight. The alternative though was just as good as any overpriced hot cafe mocha in Seoul! The  restaurant had a coffee-dispensing machine! So, with my small hot cup of coffee with cream, I walked off the last meal of the weekend by strolling around the icy neighborhood around the restaurant. A frozen creek, snowed mountain ranges from afar and fresher air would have been so much more enjoyable had it not been a freezing -5'C late afternoon. But I wasn't complaining. This screensaver-perfect scenery was hard to find in Seoul, much less in my neighborhood of Hannam-dong!
And after everyone was done, we all boarded the bus and hurried up to the more exciting part of the day. Well, for k-pop fans in the group, that is. I heard some members talking, not only about their favorite k-pop bands, but their favorite members as well. Good for them. For me, I may not be even able to recognize these faces when they're on stage, unless they're Psy, Rain or that lead girl in SISTAR. Of course, she has to wear that red dress with high slit, high heels and arms clutched with one leg up for me to recognize her. Ha-ha-ha!

According to Jae, our KTO coordinator, there would be about 500 people at the Grand Ballroom of Hanwha Resort to watch the Snow Music Festival. I thought if these 500 fans screamed together inside an enclosed space, I wonder how everyone would leave the place with  their eardrums still intact. Ha-ha-ha! 

Since the international audience was mostly bused in from Seoul (our Snow Festival Bus number was 12), we all trickled in at the resort bus by bus and queued at the main door of the ballroom one by one. Seating was not really a problem for me, but those fans who wanted to be nearer the stage, it was. I heard one person from my group complaining. Everyone was seated comfortably with a direct sight to the stage, with the music very audible and the dance moves very visible. There was no problem with the sound system and stage lighting. How bad could this fan's vision and hearing be? Ha-ha-ha! Just asking.  This was already an all-expense paid trip: a free bus ride, free lunch and dinner, a free ticket to the Special Olympics and a free k-pop concert, which any k-pop fan from any part of the world would kill for!  I didn't see the point of complaining and making the job of the KTO coordinators even more difficult. Well, some people are just like that. And oh, I forgot. Everyone in the group got k-pop t-shirts, KTO calendars, traditional Korean fans and snacks.

Now, let's go back to your k-pop bands. 

When everyone was comfortably seated and fidgety (ha-ha-ha!), the Snow Music Festival finally started with two emcees, a lady in a short red dress, who translated everything into English, and a guy speaking in Korean.

The first to perform was ZE:A, whom I have seen perform last year at the Korea In Motion opening ceremonies. Then, it was a relatively new band, N-TRAIN, and lastly, UKISS.  

  ZE:A and UKISS were the ones who had instant connection with their audience as one or two of their members spoke English, easily establishing a rapport with their screaming fans that night. Although, nowadays, it seems speaking English is not exactly a prerequisite for a k-pop band to be able to expand its fan base beyond Korea.

N-TRAIN, however, needed that lady emcee in red dress to translate. If I remember clearly, it was them who debuted a song. They chose the Snow Music Festival as the venue to sing that song for the first time. Sorry, guys. I didn't understand a word of your new song. But I'm sure it was good.

As I expected, fans screamed their hearts out all night. But all hell broke loose when UKISS members came down from the stage and walked among the audience while singing one of their songs. Of course, their Korean bodyguards were there to make sure no fan would successfully kidnap a member of UKISS. You know those burly bodyguards. Always staring at everyone with a menacing glare. The intimidating 'look' is part of their guise. To them, everyone is a potential threat to their client. So, even if you're a petite, 60-year old k-pop fan, frail-looking and with gray hair, these bodyguards will body-slam you on the carpeted floor of a concert venue if you lay a finger on that light-brown colored, carefully brushed, impeccably styled hair of a boy-band member. You'll get more than a body-slam if you do that to a k-pop girl band member. Their hairstyling is more expensive.

                                                   (All hell broke loose!)
Since there were only three boy bands performing that night, everything was over at about 7PM. By the way, I was able to video a part of the three bands' performance. Well, the videos don't exactly look like they were taken by a professional as I was there at the rightmost side of the ballroom and a few seats away from the stage. I just thought, for the sake of K-pop fans out there, who I'm sure wouldn't have made any fuss even he or she was a mile away from the stage so long as he or she is able to attend this k-pop concert for free, I'd record these performances. I just hope I labeled the videos below correctly. I'm not sure if I interchanged their names. Please let me know if  UKISS is now ZE:A, and N-TRAIN is now UKISS. Ha-ha-ha!

Just click on these links: ZE:A's videoN-TRAIN's video and
UKISS' video.

After the show, as part of their campaign to gain more popularity, N-TRAIN had a photo-session with the audience members. I'm not sure if some people from our group stayed behind for this. But I would have if it were SISTAR. Ha-ha-ha!

By the time we left the venue, it was already snowing heavily. Roads were slippery, the bus speed was slow and worse, my tummy was grumbling. Luckily, I saved those snacks given by KTO to us in the morning. Thanks, KTO! I didn't starve on the way back to Seoul. Our bus crossed the Hannam Bridge at a few minutes past 10PM, and snow was all over the city.
From the snowy slopes of Pyeongchang-gun, where k-pop boy bands were reunited with their screaming fans, to my Hannam-dong neighborhood which was now turning into a snowy ski run itself, this Sunday trip to the Korean countryside was indeed a snow festival of sorts.