Dojang 도장 (Korean seal)

A Dojang is a seal or stamp containing Chinese characters used to prove identity on documents, contracts, art, or similar items where authorship is considered important. Korean seals are made of wood, jade, or sometimes ivory for more value. State Seals were generally made of gold or high-quality jade. These seals are written in Chinese characters, since most Korean names have Chinese in them.

Many official documents accept a stamped Dojang rather than a signature. I’ve personally noticed the use when teachers have to officially stamp the finalized tests we give students and my signature is the only one present amidst the red circled seals.

The seal was first introduced to Korea in approximately 2nd century BCE. The remaining oldest record of its usage in Korea is that of the King of Buyeo, which had inscription “Seal of the King of Ye” (예왕지인). These personal seals in Korea can be classified by their legal status. Ingam (인감) or sirin (실인), meaning registered seal, is the seal which is registered to local office. By registering the seal, a person can issue a “certificate of seal registration” (ingam-jungmyeong-seo (인감증명서) which is required for most of significant business transactions and civil services. While ingam is used in important business transactions, other dojangs are used in everyday purposes such as less-significant official transactions (which I assume is what my teachers do). Thus most Koreans have more than two seals.

In Busan, I decided to finally get some for my friends and I. This guy as you will see is using a bit of high tech to get it done, traditionally it was hand carved. A bit more tedious than punching in the characters onto his laptop. I had to get mine written in Hangul, Korean, since my name does not have Chinese characters.


Chica Vs. Food: Live Octopus

Sannakji (산낙지)

Eating live octopus is a delicacy here in Korea, and considered a healthy dish to consume. Who would have thought eating veggies and fruits is passé 😉 According to the USDA Nutrient Database (2007), cooked octopus contains approximately 139 calories per three ounce portion, and is a source of vitamin B3, B12, potassium, phosphorus and selenium. As for uncooked? I don’t really know.

Now great care must be taken when eating them, seeing as their tenticles are still moving when the dish is served. They are smart creatures, and have been known to be a choking hazard, like my friend Mihwa will tell you. Here’s a vid of an octopus escaping, a reminder of how squirmy these creatures are:

So officially the dish is called Sannakji. It consists of live nakji (낙지, a small octopus) that has been cut into small pieces and served immediately. It is usually seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds which I’m guessing making it an easier process to swallow. It can also be served whole, but I’m ok with just having the little pieces seeing as they are still moving and I have to eat it. So, here goes:


Live Octopus/ Sannakji:

Busan here we come!

Mihwa, Yeon Jung, Jodi and I decided a break was needed so we booked a two day trip to Busan (부산), Korea’s second largest city. This is where the 2002 FIFA World Cup occurred. The best part about this big city is the beach, its nestled right next to it and has a large port that can get you to Japan in just a few hours. Sweeeet. On the map you’ll see that from Taegu (as Daegu is sometimes spelled) isn’t too far from Busan. It’s just a short 2 hours train ride there, if not less.

How do you compare Busan to Seoul? Well, I’ve come to conclude that Seoul is just plain overwhelming. I’m from NYC and still I find it to be a crazy city to be in mostly because of the language difference. They do sure beat us in train efficiency, cleanliness and clearcut maps and directions when you are there. Busan is smaller but still feels like a large city, having multiple downtown areas, unlike Daegu with its one main area.

Music by: The Donnas “Dancing with Myself”
The Dollyrots “Because I am Awesome”

Miwha and Yeon Jung both work for Kyobo Bookstore, kinda like a Barnes and Noble equivalent. Luckily, the store has a partnership with a hotel in Haeundae, the beach area near Busan so we got a discount when we booked it. Awesome!

Haeundae (해운대) is where one of the most popular beaches in Korea is. During the summer it is jammed packed, and the winter? Well, in the winter the Polar Bear Club, similar to the one in Coney Island in Brooklyn, makes a dash for the cold water on January 1st when the water is around 0°C.

Needless to say, here is a video from our stay at the hotel there:

Lunar New Year in Korea

Seolnal (설날)

I‘m a wee bit tardy on updating all of this but its been hard to get inspired to write when I have so much more time on my hands. Imagine that lol. Needless to say Lunar New Year was an awesome experience. Jodi and I actually sort of celebrated it the Sunday before when we went to visit Miwha’s family for the first time. Korean New Year, commonly known as Seollal (설날) and is celebrated for three days. Like Thanksgiving, their New Years is a traditional family holiday. I was glad to be included in part of the cultural aspects of it and just be able to hang out with a family for a night.

When visiting a home for the first time. If it’s a housewarming party then traditionally you can get them either detergent or toilet paper or paper towels. Aside from the practicality of these gifts (it was great receiving them from my co-teachers when they came to visit me) there is a more symbolic take. Detergent symbolize a physically and spiritually pure home, it bubbles up when mixed with water. The bubbles represent money and prosperity. The laundry detergent is a wish for the new homeowners to have a clean and prosperous place to live. As for toilet paper, it also symbolizes the wish for a clean and pure home.

Since Jodi and I were not going for a housewarming party, we bought a juice gift set instead. Either that or bringing maybe fruit or even a cake for dessert would have been ok. Supermarkets were filling up with gift sets as the New Year celebration was approaching. Here are some of the generic things you will find when shopping for gift sets:

I love the practicality of these gifts. Who needs more shower gels and lotion bottles gifts sets from Bath and Body works when you can just get the stuff you actually need?

From what I heard Spam became very popular when our own soldiers came to stay here during the Korean war. Funny how it’s not so popular in America anymore but they love it here.

Cans of tuna are another popular gift choice. So convenient, I love it.

Sebae (세배), the New Year’s Bow

Sebae is the traditional bow performed by the children as a sign of respect to their elders. It is usually one deep long bow, any more and its usually associated with bowing to the dead. They then wish the elders a Happy New Year, “Saehae bok manhi padeuseyo” ( 새해 복 많이 받으세요) which translates to please receive many blessings in the new year. You can hear me say it on my clip from these year’s solar new year celebration here.

If you want to see more of that this looks like you can visit the tourist website for Korea where they’ve broken it down by gender. Here ya go.

Yut / Yunnori (윷 / 윷놀이)

Mihwa and her cousins taught us this awesome traditional game usually played on New Years. I can’t even begin to explain how to play ha, it was a bit complicated at first but it gets addictive and very VERY competitive.

You have four sticks that are thrown, instead of using dice, and it determines how many spaces and in which direction you go to get your pieces back to the beginning. It’s all luck which makes it fun to play and watch since you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Here’s a video of a class playing a life size version of the game in the traditional Korean outfits called Hanbok (한복).

Tteokguk (떡국)

Yum! This was a great surprise to have. This soup is the traditional meal to have during this holiday. The dish consists of the soup, guk, with thinly sliced rice cakes ,tteok, similar to a rice pasta.

It is tradition to eat tteokguk on New Year’s day because it is believed to grant the person luck for the new year and gain an additional year of life. This is traditionally when all Koreans become a year older (NOT on their birthday). The soup is usually garnished with thin julienned sliced cooked eggs, marinated meat, and dried seaweed.

I‘m so glad I got to experience a bit of the Korean culture during this year’s Lunar New Year. If you ever have the chance, try the soup….its one of those that just makes you feel at home during a cold day.