Rok 'n Roll Radio

A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?

Things I didn’t do until I came to Korea


Eat raw garlic
I love garlic. Recipes that call for only one measly clove of garlic are to be ignored and ridiculed. But eating raw garlic isn’t something we do in Australia. The first person I ever saw eating raw garlic was my Umma. I thought that was pretty hardcore.

When you go to Korean BBQ nearly every week, you start creating your own style of lettuce wrap. Onions offset the rich, heavy taste of grilled meat. But I felt like there was something missing. So I threw some raw garlic in there. It’s like a mid-chew palate cleanser. Now let’s kiss!

Cook a meal only using chopsticks and scissors
It’s all you need. Saves on washing up, too.

Make exciting ramyeon / ramen / instant noodles
In Australia, 2 minute noodles are a popular snack food for children, poor students and extremely lazy. Korea – and other Asian countries – go all out when it comes to 2 minute noodles. There are hundreds of flavours to choose from and cost under $1. Convenience stores even offer microwaves, hot water stations and tables to cater for ramyeon-lovers.

My YouTube addiction led to finding videos of people putting more things in their ramyeon. You mean there’s more things you can put in there apart from those dinky sachets of MSG and salt? Amazing!

This is my favourite ramyeon combination:

1 x Shin Ramyeon
1 x chopped green onions
1 x a green leafy vegetable like bok choy. Spinach is good too.
1 x mushrooms. I like enoki mushrooms because they are delicious and ridiculously cheap in Korea.
1 x chopped meat of your choice. Pork belly (samgyeopsal) also very cheap in Korea. Korean Hanoo beef if you’re feeling fancy.
1 x egg

Poach or fry the egg and set it aside. Throw all the other stuff into water and boil until it’s cooked. Pour your ramyeon creation into a bowl. Plop the egg on top. Stab the egg with your chopstick so the goopy yolky bits get mixed up with the noodles. That’s it!


Note: Although most people call this “ramen”, Koreans call it “ramyeon”. “Myeon” (면) means “noodle” in Korean, which comes from the Chinese word for noodle – “miàn” (麵)

Use bamboo salt toothpaste


After eating all that garlic and ramyeon, you gotta keep your mouth fresh, right? You can buy mint toothpaste here, but bamboo salt is a Korean favourite. It tastes exactly how it sounds. Apparently brushing your teeth with salt dates back to the Joseon Era. Ye olde fancy Korean folks would infuse the salt with bamboo to reap its medicinal benefits.

It’s different, but I like it. It feels cleaner than mint toothpaste, like you’ve given your chompers a good old-fashioned scrub and popped one of those pine tree air fresheners in your mouth.

Be really into makeup and skincare
Korean makeup is cheap as hell and there’s a cosmetic store in every neighbourhood. My usual makeup routine is powder, eyeliner and lipgloss. Now I can’t leave the house without BB cream, a splash of eyeshadow and that orangey-red lip colour that is so popular with Korean women. Playing with different shades of eyeshadow is so much fun!

So why now? I think it’s because when I was growing up in Australia, all the beauty magazines and ads and TV shows and whatnot show how to do makeup for Western women. Which doesn’t work for me. My eyes are a different shape and my skin is a different tone (note: not yellow, btw). But now I’m surrounded by Koreans and I find myself paying attention to how they do their makeup. Oh, so THAT’S how you do it! Thanks, impeccable-looking Korean ladies! You’re inspiration for my face.

Hang out at the cat cafe
Life gets stressful when your job is to communicate with about 90 shrieking Korean children all day in a language that they don’t understand. So sometimes I go chill out at the cat cafe. Patting cats, or simply watching them frolic about with fluffy toys, is a great way to remind yourself that life and the world are not entirely terrible.

Hang out at the jjimjilbang
Another form of stress relief. Because taking off all of your clothes and getting into a huge, warm, bath is never a bad idea.

Use a language other than English every day
This seems obvious, but it’s crazy when I think about it. Most older Koreans do not speak English. The English level of young Koreans here is much lower than the bigger cities like Seoul or Busan. So I have to speak the tiny, crappy bit of Korean I know – from ordering food to sorting out my bank account.

I get around on public transport using the Daum maps app, which is entirely in Korean. It’s actually a fantastic app once you figure it out – it tells you in real time where your bus is and the estimated time it will take to arrive at your stop.

I can’t change my school’s computer to English, so I’ve just had to figure out how to use Microsoft Office in Korean.

I have to call class attendance every day using a list of names entirely in Hangul.

Sometimes I don’t have a coteacher while teaching class, and resort to writing instructions in Korean on the board for the kids.

Some of the teachers at school don’t speak English and I need to ask them things like “where is the printer paper?” “where are the scissors?” “where are my students?”

It’s like cracking codes. The code resets when I get a word wrong or my accent comes out. Sometimes I cheat and call the Interpreter Hotline – usually about parcel deliveries. The postal service here is quite reliant on phone communication and I find talking on the phone in Korean really hard.

Plus, being ethnically Korean means that locals assume I’m fluent and chat away to me. I’m currently taking Korean language classes from a local private tutor, so even though these little conversations in Korean are painfully embarrassing, it’s also the best way to practice learning a second language.

Travel 3 hours by bus to another city almost every weekend
I have taken a 3 hour bus to Seoul and back again over a weekend just to eat Mexican food. I’ve also visited Busan just to go to a party with unlimited wine. I book a bus ticket, trawl through hostels on and visit to another city nearly every weekend.

In Brisbane, I rarely went out of the city – despite the fact that I live about an hour away from two beach areas, islands and loads of different towns. But when you’re living in a small city in Korea, you get the feeling that you’d better use your time wisely. If I don’t get out of town, I stay in my tiny apartment on the internet, buried in a pile of chocolate wrappers. Which is depressing and doesn’t make for interesting blog updates.

Sometimes I get the big squishy seat by myself on the gosok bus and I am super stoked.

Sometimes I get the big squishy seat by myself on the gosok bus and I am super stoked.


5 comments on “Things I didn’t do until I came to Korea

  1. Shu Shu
    March 18, 2015

    I love this! The bamboo toothpaste was something I wanted to try out but forgot all about it.

  2. Jinny Boer
    March 19, 2015

    love, love, love your (food) blog! guess crazy noshing and puttering with make up is all in our genes… Your Ajumma

  3. CL (RealGunners)
    March 26, 2015

    Oh yes, you can do lots of stuff with the ramyeon. I’ve tried doing a cheese baked ramyeon with sausages and broccoli once and it was superb! 😉

    I came here through Mabel’s blog (I think), and I love your stories about your reunion with your birth family. Very interesting and touching to read!

  4. Kelly
    June 17, 2015

    Mm I never ate garlic until I lived in Korea either. Have you tried grilling it yet? So good. And ugh, I had the same struggle with makeup in America; definitely loved checking out all the makeup stores over there.

    • Ellie
      June 17, 2015

      Yeah, but I like the stronger tastes when it’s raw. Makes my breath stink but it’s totally worth it!

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