Close

Pepero Day Korean Valentine’s Day: A Guide

Hey everyone,

November 11th is upon us and, as I’m sure you’re all aware, it’s the day before my mom’s birthday. HI MOM! It’s also a very special day in Korea; it’s Pepero Day. Pepero Day is like Korean Valentine’s Day, not to be confused with Valentine’s Day in Korea which is also a holiday (2/14).

I know a lot of you are probably confused about how to celebrate this momentous day, so I put together this handy guide to celebrating Pepero Day…like a boss.

 

What is Pepero?

[quote]Pepero (빼빼로) is a cookie stick, dipped in compound chocolate, manufactured by Lotte Confectionery in South Korea since 1983.[/quote]

-Wikipedia

Pepero is delicious. It’s similar to Pocky, the Japanese chocolate covered cookie stick, but, don’t tell the Koreans that. It’s sold in 12 different flavors. Although, I have not tried all of the flavors yet, so far, White Cookie Chocolate is the best.

[unordered_list style=”green-dot”]

  • Regular Chocolate
  • Strawberry-flavored
  • Almond Chocolate
  • Nude (chocolate in the center)
  • Nude Lemon Cheese
  • White Cookie Chocolate
  • Hami Melon

[/unordered_list]

*This list has been unaltered and comes straight from the Pepero website.

pepero day bounty

Why is Pepero Day November 11th? Is there some historical significance?

Nope! Pepero Day is November 11th because 11/11 looks like 4 sticks of Pepero and that’s as good a day as any to celebrate chocolate cookie sticks.

Is Pepero Day only for lovers?

Every November 11th young couples purchase delicious Pepero snacks for their special someone and they exchange their snacks as romantically as possible. If your sweetie lives too far away from you to visit on Pepero Day, you can also mail them Pepero. You don’t even need to ship them in separate packaging. Pepero boxes come with a place to add a stamp as well as a short message. That’s right! So much Pepero is mailed around Korea that they designate a place on the box for a postage stamp.

pepero mail

In case you were wondering what living in the future feels like, it feels like this: chocolate candy sticks with stamps for mailing to lovers.

What if I love my sweetie more than other people love their sweeties? Is there a way I can rub it in their faces?

Absolutely! Pepero Day is a great way to gauge your love for others in the form of chocolate cookie sticks. Nicole got me a giant Pepero stick with a heart-shaped handle, similar to the handle on a shepherd’s staff, or crook, as I recently learned on Wikipedia. Since my Pepero staff, or crook, was far too delicious to photograph, I found this picture online to approximate my appearance on Pepero Day.

Pepero Day Giant Pepero

Halloween in Korea: Costumes and Mummies

Halloween is a whole different beast here in Korea. It seems to have spread to Korea through word of mouth and some sort of long-distance, cross-cultural game of “Telephone.” Some ideas came through and other ones clearly got lost in translation. In short, not many people dress up and there isn’t a lot of candy diversity, but let’s explore further!

Korea isn’t big on costumes

halloweenNoCostumes

As I said, Korea doesn’t really do costumes. Korea is a culture that embraces modesty; ladies aren’t supposed to show too much skin and they should never show their shoulders. This idea is in stark contrast to the western idea of scantily clad Halloweiners, I may or may not have just made that word up. Most of my fellow teachers didn’t dress up for Halloween or, if they did, their costume was limited to cat ears and/or a witch’s cape. My students opted for similar costumes, so I spent most of Halloween surrounded by cat witches.

dramatization of Jade's sweet costume

dramatization of Jade’s sweet costume

Since half of our students attend Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the other half attend Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, we celebrated Halloween on Wednesday and Thursday; October 30th and 31st, respectively. Lindsay, one of my fellow foreign teachers, dressed up as a Care Bear one day and a Librarian next. Conrad dressed up as a punk one day and Dracula the next day. I opted to go as a lumberjack both days with a pair of work boots and a giant construction paper axe. It was a great costume and my paper axe managed to keep my students in line. Jade, one of the awesomest Korean teachers at work, went as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and had an awesome costume complete with weapons.

[divider_flat]

Halloween Festivities

holloween mummy

In the afternoon, my academy has younger students in elementary grades. We made little Halloween boxes with them and went trick-or-treating around the academy to other classrooms. During their last class of the afternoon, we had a mummy-making contest. This was one of the highlights of my day. Normally, our school looks down on wrapping the students in toilet paper and marching them through the hallways. I know because I checked my contract. It’s a big no-no in Korea. HOWEVER, on Halloween it’s perfectly acceptable, nay, its required.

Twice a day for both Halloween and Monday/Wednesday/Friday Halloween, I got to help my students cover one of their peers with toilet paper and turn them into a mummy. The younger kids loved it. I have a class of about six 8 year olds who look like the Korean Cabbage patch kids and they went bananas for it. We had a blast and covered one student, Dan, with enough toilet paper to stretch to Seoul and back (3.5 hours by bus…each way).

The older students were less enthused. They’re in that awkward teenager phase where practicing ancient Egyptian burial customs is considered uncool. I was disappointed because as the teacher, it’s usually a bad sign if you’re the most enthusiastic person in the room. I thought for sure they would love it since the middle schoolers’ only interaction with paper products is writing essays and using the bathroom between classes.

 

P.S. sorry for the delay in writing. More to come soon!

Sunflower Festival and Beach day

After our busy day of tea fields, baseball games, and nightclubs, Nicole and I could only follow it up with an equally busy Sunday of sunflowers and beaches.

Bus Terminal

Last Friday my Korean co-worker, Jade invited me to a sunflower festival with her and some of the other foreign teachers. Nicole and I met Ted, Patrick, Alyssa, and Jade at the bus terminal and caught a bus to Gochang, about an hour away from Gwangju. The ride was uneventful and the destination was even less eventful. This was perhaps the least interesting town in Korea, luckily we weren’t here for the town, we were here for the sunflowers.

The Cab Ride

Jade spoke to two cab drivers and asked them to drive all of us out to the sunflower field several miles away. By Korean standards, this was the most expensive cab ride we’d taken so far. Split 3 ways it was roughly $7 a piece. The ride was insane. Korean cabbies in Gwangju drive uncomfortably fast for being in heavy traffic but get them out in the countryside away from traffic and they really floor it. We were whizzing around turns and speeding past green blurs which I assume were farms. There were a few turns where I was shocked the tires were able to hold traction and keep us on the road. I thought for sure we would slide off the road and bounce down a mountainside like dice on a craps table, but we survived and made it to the sunflower field.

Sunflower Festival

In Korea, the term festival is loosely applied to all events, things, ideas, and concepts. You’re never really certain what a “festival” will entail, but it almost never involves a Ferris wheel.

Sunflowers

This sunflower festival happened to be a field of sunflowers many of which were dead. This was partly our fault for visiting the field on the very last day of sunflower season. Jade told us the pictures she saw from earlier in the season were beautiful. I was able to get a few good shots of sunflowers and the field was still mostly green so the pictures came out well.

Sunflower

Us walking

We spent the next hour or so walking through the field taking photos and observing the majestic beauty of the partially decomposing sunflowers. I saw it as a metaphor for the fragility of life and the ever-looming specter that is death, but mostly I just took pictures. Many Korean couples wandered through the field in their hiking gear or high heels, some wearing a combination of the two.

Koreans in Sunflowers

There was a little pagoda in the center of the field and from all sides of it, you could see endless green and yellow sunflower plants. We hung out in the pagoda for a while just talking and recovering from the soul-crushing heat. In case I forgot to mention the temperature in previous posts, assume that it’s been at least 90 degrees outside in all of my posts.

DSC_0722

Lunch

After our well-deserved escape from the heat, we left the pagoda and ate lunch at a café/visitor center on the outskirts of the sunflower field. Nicole and I shared a squid pizza (more like an open-faced squid omelet) and bibimbap (rice, egg, and veggies in a bowl). It was delicious. Across from the restaurant was a sunflower gift shop selling various sunflower-related products such as a tea-like drink mix and some sunflower seeds in different size bags. Nicole and the other ladies on the trip got soft serve ice cream, vanilla since the swirl option was broken.

After lunch, we returned to where the cab drivers had dropped us off. The two drivers were milling around the parking lot doing cab driver things, probably discussing beaded seat cushions, awful car fragrances, or the best way to drift around turns and scare your passengers.

The Ride to the Beach

We all piled into the two cabs and drove to the beach. The drive was about 20 minutes and the cab drivers didn’t take their foot off the gas once. It was exhilarating and terrifying, but the fare was low so I can’t complain. About halfway through the ride the cab driver turned to Nicole in the backseat and handed her his business card and a paper fan sponsored by the police department condemning domestic violence. I don’t really know what to make of that gesture. Either Nicole happened to say something in English that sounded like Korean for “please give me a business card and information on domestic violence” or I still have lots to learn about Korean culture.

Beach

The Beach

We arrived at a little town on the coast, I use the term town loosely, there were four to five buildings and a beach. We walked through town, all of it, and out to the beach. A concrete wall surrounded the beach on the coast side, immediately on the other side of it was a rocky outcropping where Koreans were sunbathing. We laid our towels out on the hot rocks and basked like lizards beneath a heat lamp. Once we were sufficiently heated on both sides, like lightly toasted English muffins, we walked down to the water. It was low tide so the water was about a half mile away. I expected to be cooled down by the water on such a hot day. However, I was in for a surprise. The water was hot, not just warm but hot. It was not refreshing.

Rocks

DSC_0736 copy

 

DSC_0763 copy

The time in the water was relatively uneventful so I’ll take this time to tell you about Korean beach attire. Koreans fear the sun like vampires and cherish whiteness like Aryans. Consequently, it’s not unusual to see Koreans in either incredibly modest swimsuits or completely covered up head to toe with long sleeves, pants, and a hat. As a foreigner, I have been repeatedly warned to check for “whitening” in my sunscreen, because some sunscreen not only blocks the sun but also makes your skin whiter than when you left for the beach.

Koreans at Beach

After our swim, we returned to Gwangju via a bus to a bus.

 

Club Night

After the tea fields and baseball game, Nicole, Will, Kayla, and I went downtown to paint the town red. The game ended early by Korean standards, around 10 so we found ourselves downtown well before Korea dance hour, which may or may not exist.

Fanny packs on ready to dance

Fanny packs on ready to dance

The first club we went to was called Mix…I think. There was a cover, but the doorman just waved us in. Something being a group of foreigners in Korea seems to open doors for you, in this case literally. We walked into the dimly lit and darkly painted stairwell and walked upstairs to a small club on the second floor. Once inside we got some drinks and danced for a while. I would say with the exception of Nicole, none of us are amazing dancers, but that didn’t stop us. That did, however, stop everyone else. Koreans don’t seem to be big dancers. They prefer to sit at tables around the periphery of the dance floor, smoking cigarettes, wearing white pants, and contemplating their next move, or something, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Free Drinks

Apparently, our dancing caught someone’s eye though. We were all given a free round of drinks from some Korea gentlemen, possibly someone that works at the bar. Nicole and I tried to get others to join us on the dance floor, but the Koreans were having none of it. After a bit, we decided to explore more clubs in downtown Gwangju. Gwangju, like most downtowns anywhere, loves fliers. Fliers are everywhere. New stores, new restaurants, theme nights at clubs, you name it there’s a flyer for it. One such flier caught our eye BASS ATTACK. How do you say no to something called bass attack? I don’t know because we didn’t. Luckily it was nearby or we might have given up.

Nuclear Bunker Nightclub

Fast forward, there’s bass pumping out of a poured concrete hallway, this is the closest I’ve ever been to feeling like I’m walking into a nuclear bunker, sans bass. Once again there may have been cover, but it didn’t apply to us apparently. Inside the whole club was industrial poured concrete and black booths, it was bananas, and it was all empty. It’s as if the club planned an awesome night and hired great DJs then forgot to tell anyone about it. Nicole, Will, Kayla, and I had the place to ourselves with the exception of about 10 Koreans, several of whom were dancing.

After a while, we all caught a cab back to our apartments and called it a night. Between the Boseong Tea Fields, baseball game, and our night of clubbing, it had been a pretty solid day. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place where I can do all of these things in a single day. I got to see a traditional Korean trade, a fantastic piece of modern Korean culture, and a very futuristic view of Korean nightlife, all in one day.

Korean Baseball

Since this weekend was so adventurous, I had to break it up into a few posts keep from writing one epically long post. This installment of my awesome weekend picks up right after the Boseong Tea Fields post. So if you haven’t had a chance to read that, I encourage you to check that out first. Anyway, on with the show!

After we returned to Gwangju, Nicole and I went to my place to change and get ready for the baseball game. Nicole and I were going with Will and Kayla to see Gwangju’s Kia Tigers play against Daegu’s Samsung Lions. The Kia Tigers colors are red, so the two of us wore all the red we could, including our DMZ fanny packs that Nicole picked up on her east coast trip. Long story short, we looked pretty cool.

Nicole and I picked up some Chamchi Kimbap (tuna sushi) for the road and met Will and Kayla at the corner to hail a cab to the stadium. Split four ways, the cab worked out to a few dollars each. Having been to MLB games in the states, I foolishly expected something along the lines of an MLB game in the states. This experience was wildly different and waaay better.

Gwangju Mudeung Baseball Stadium

Gwangju Mudeung Baseball Stadium

Tiny Stadium

First off, the stadium, Gwangju Mudeung Baseball Stadium, was tiny. It was comparable to a minor league stadium in the states and held 12,000 people. I much preferred this. It had much more of a community spirit and felt a lot less like attending a corporate franchise.

Sunset at Gwangju Mudeung Baseball Stadium

Cheap Tickets

Second, tickets are dirt cheap. We bought our tickets 30 minutes before the game and they were only $9. I spent more than that on movie tickets back in the states. The seats we got were decent too. We were about halfway up the stands along the third baseline.

Booze and baseball

Booze

In the states if you go to a baseball game, expect to spend $8-10 on a plastic cup of beer and wait in a long line to get it. In Korea, they have convenience stores in the stadium. That’s right, convenience stores in the stadium. We went in and bought a six-pack of beer for the same price as we would pay outside at any other convenience store.  It was fantastic.

Traitors

Top Athletes

Kidding, Korean baseball is awful, hilariously so. I love Korea, I think the Korean people are great, but they are not baseball players. Now, I’m no expert on baseball, nor do I claim to be, but I could recognize skill or lack thereof. Half the players couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield, and when they did, it was a guaranteed two bases for the batter because the outfielders weren’t used to having to catch the ball and often could not catch the ball. We say two outfielders both run for a ball that was easily catchable only to have both miss it. I expected to hate watching the game for the low-level of play, but I ended up enjoying it much more. It was refreshing to see players struggle and occasionally mess up. I feel like watching an extremely high level of sportsmanship becomes boring after a while. It’s less like watching sports and more like watching robots. The team that wins is the team that messes up least, not the team that dominates over the other one. It’s similar to watching professional bowling, where the bowler that loses is the one that misses by a single strike against his opponent’s perfect game.

Fans

Atmosphere

The stadium was electric with energy, despite the small stadium and poor playing, the fans were just as excited, if not more so. It was nice to see baseball at its roots. The game was much simpler in so many ways.

In the states, at least in Tampa Bay, baseball seems catered towards those with ADHD. There’s music constantly, random videos and commercials on the jumbotron, contests, dancers, people giving speeches on the field. It’s like the MLB is trying to distract people from the fact that they’re watching baseball, rather than embracing the fact that they’re watching baseball.

2013-08-10 20.49.28

Watching baseball in Korea was different. There was an old school jumbotron that displayed the score and one beer chugging competition about halfway through the game. Other than that there were no festivities or distractions, just people watching baseball. The crowd provided the rest of the fanfare. When the Kia Tigers scored, someone in the crowd played a drum and the fans sang songs and cheered with their inflatable sticks.

2013-08-10 20.48.50

Nicole and I showed our hometown pride by rooting for the Kia Tigers, even though they lost in the end by more than 8 points. Kayla and Will were less devoted fans and switched over to Samsung Lions fans about halfway through the game. Nicole and I had planned to leave early but ended up having such a great time that we stayed for the whole game.