Ssanghwatang (쌍화탕)

South Korea has a great deal to offer in the way of herbal medicine.  Here, you can find Korean traditional medicine hospitals (한의원) as easily as you could find any western clinic.  You don’t have to go to a hospital to try Korean medicines though, instead, you can stop by your local convenience store and try some ssanghwatang (쌍화탕).  To be honest, most people don’t like it’s flavor; Korean medicine is known for being bitter, even with added sweeteners.  I don’t favor the convenience store fare, but if you go to some cafes (such as those in insadong), you can find a nicer version of ssanghwatang.  I liked this more authentic version so much that I decided to enlist my wife to help me track down a recipe.

The first difficulty was that the herbs required were entirely foreign to me, and not just because they were written in Korean.  Mia gave me a list of herbs and roots and sent me down to the traditional market in town.  I went to the herb shop that I usually go to buy ginseng and asked him to fill the list.  Here is what I bought for making ssanghwatang:

  1. 황기 Hwanggi
  2. 당귀 Danggui
  3. 감초 Gamcho
  4. 백작약 Baekjakyak
  5. 칡 Chilk
  6. 천궁 Cheongung
  7. 숙지황 Sukjihwang
  8. 계피 Gyaepi (cinnamon)
  9. 대추 Daechu (jujube)
  10. 생강 Saenggang (ginger)

For about 100 grams of each, the total came to 16,000 won (about $15 USD).

The recipe that my lovely wife found was approximately the following:

  • 황기 Hwanggi (12g)
  • 당귀 Danggui (12g)
  • 감초 Gamcho (9g)
  • 백작약 Baekjakyak (30g)
  • 칡 Chilk (one piece)
  • 천궁 Cheongung (12g)
  • 숙지황 Sukjihwang (12g)
  • 계피 Gyaepi (cinnamon) (12g)
  • 대추 Daechu (jujube) (six pieces)
  • 생강 Saenggang (ginger) (20g)
  1. Measure all ingredients and add to a boiling bag (except Sukjihwang).
  2. Add bag to boiling water for 30-60 seconds (for cleaning).
  3. Remove bag and dispose of water.
  4. Add 3 liters of water and the bag to the pot.
  5. Cook on high until boiling.
  6. Once boiling, reduce heat to half. (Should be just barely bubbling).
  7. Reduce to half of original volume (to 1.5 liters).
  8. Drink immediately or store in the refrigerator (once it cools).

So, if that wasn’t clear enough, let’s look at some pictures!

Here we have all of the ingredients and my dear wife.
Cleaning for 30-60 seconds.
After cleaning, refil to 3 liters and add boiling bag.  Boil down to about 1.5 liters.  Remember to use half heat once it starts to boil. 
Serve in a nice tea cup with some candied ginger.  You can also add dried daechu and pine nuts to the tea (they usually do that at the cafes).  

I really hope that this entry has been helpful, or at the very least, interesting.  Another time I will write about how to make a different tea called Shipjeondaebotang (십전대보탕) as well as how to make that candied ginger.  Happy boiling!


Licorice Root Tea

As I mentioned last year, I had surgery to fix my vocal cords.  The problem began most likely due to the amount of talking I did and the amount of caffeine I was drinking.  It wasn’t really so much that I was drinking lots of caffeine, but rather that I was not drinking regular water to keep hydrated.  One very helpful discovery I have made is Kamchocha, or licorice root tea.  This tea is very sweet and it tastes nothing like licorice. In Korea it is fairly easy to find in the open markets, just look for a place that is selling other herbs.  Kamcho tea can be made simply by boiling the root in water for about 30 minutes or so.  I’ve also made it using the slow cook option on my rice cooker; I would set this up before bed and it would cook over night.  The latest method I have been using to make this tea is the easiest of all.  I take about 5 pieces of the root and put it into a 500ml thermos.  I then put boiling water in and put the cap back on.  After an hour this tea is ready and the thermos can be filled up one or two more times.

I am not sure of any medical benefits of this tea; some websites say that it acts as a demulcent to protect your throat.  In my experience I find it to be helpful to drink before a class, and soothing to drink after.

Take Care of Your Voice

About one year after arriving in Korea I began to have some sharp pains in my throat when speaking in class.  These pains would cut my words in half when they came, and it became very frustrating.  Last spring the condition quickly became worse, and I decided to visit a series of doctors.  In the end I went to a university hospital in Daejeon. Here the doctor told me that I had a small bump on one of my vocal cords.

Finally I had found the source of my pain, but how was I to fix it?  I went on thrice daily medication for about two months, and as much voice rest as a teacher can manage for a further four months.  All the while I was not allowed to drink either caffeine or alcohol.  This led to a drastic change in my lifestyle since I was used to beginning my days with coffee. For the first couple months I felt like I was constantly just rolling out of bed all day long.  Now I feel fairly normal without caffeine, but I still prefer to drink it than not.

Yesterday I went back to the doctor after three months of rest and he told me that my condition had not improved.  He said through an English speaking nurse that surgery was the next option.  Actually surgery was what I had expected from the beginning back in March, but medicine was the suggested route.  So now, in about one month, I will be going in to have surgery on my vocal cords.

The procedure is not lengthy, but it does require some prep work.  I will go in to the hospital a few weeks a head to have some pre-operation tests done.  About two weeks before the operation I will need to have a mouthpiece made so that the instruments do not chip my teeth.  The day before the surgery I will be admitted and I will spend that night and the night of the operation day in the hospital.  After that I will have about two weeks where I will not be able to speak.  This means about nine days of paid vacation from school.

The price is not exactly cheap.  By US standards it may seem affordable, but it is still a decent dent and may cost me a long anticipated vacation.  The surgery itself will cost about 700,000 won.  The pre-operation tests will cost about 55,000, and the room is incredibly cheap at about 32,000 for two nights.  On top of that I need to make a mouthpiece at a separate dental office which may cost about 100,000 won.  When it is all added up it will cost nearly 900,000 won.

I never thought that I was abusing my voice, but during my first year teaching there were no microphones in class. Luckily there are microphones in almost every classroom now; I shouldn’t have problems once this has healed.  I always drink plenty of water throughout the day, and I try not to drink very cold or very hot water. I think soon I will be investing in a small humidifier to use while I sleep.

So, for any teachers who are not thinking about voice care, do.  It will save you pain, money, and inconvenience.

Student Loans

It’s no secret that many English teachers in Korea have at least some student loan debt, I am no different.  Because I went to a private university for my bachelors, I probably have a decent bit more than most.  That being said, I find that my loan payments are fairly affordable.

When I first considered coming to Korea to teach English I was certain that I would not be able to afford my loan payments and be able to eat.  A few years later I did some more math and discovered quite the opposite.  I am able to afford to pay my loans, plus a bit extra (so they go down faster), and still maintain a budgeted yet comfortable life.

One of the difficult parts about planning a budget in a country that you have not lived in before is that you may not know what to expect.  Here I will list the most common bills and fees that one might encounter in Korea (all prices are in Korean won per month).

Apartment: With most contracts in Korea, the school will find and pay for your apartment unless you wish to find your own living space.  In the case of the latter, the school should give you a stipend to pay for your housing.  This works well if you want something other than the one room style apartments that they usually choose.  In the current EPIK contract I think it states that 400,000 will be given as a stipend if the teacher wishes to find their own housing.  In Korea, it is very common for a landlord to ask for a large deposit before allowing you to move in.  This can sometimes affect the rent that you pay. For example: one landlord may ask for a 5,000,000 deposit and charge 400,000 per month, or ask for a 10,000,000 deposit and charge only 350,000 per month.  This money, known as “key money”, is considered to be a deposit, and will be returned at the end of the lease.  If you allow you school to choose and pay for your apartment, you should not have to worry about any key money or rent payments.

Cellphone:  Your phone bill will vary depending on if you have your own phone or if you need to buy a new one.  If you do not need a new one you will probably be paying 35,000 – 50,000 per month for a data plan.  The lower end will be for a 3G network, and the higher will be for faster networks. The 3G will probably be unlimited data, but the faster networks may be limited. If you do need to purchase a new phone, there are a couple of options available.  The first option is to pay for the phone straight up at the beginning of the contract.  The second option is to pay monthly installments presumably with some  interest. This second option is only available if a contract of at least 2 years is signed.  To calculate the cost per month of the installment method, divide the price of the phone by 24 (two years of contract).  The price of the phone, the data plan, and any other options will appear on your phone bill.

Gas:  In Korea gas is commonly used for heating water as well as the floor heating system.  Gas will be fairly cheap in the summer and expensive in the winter as the amount used will vary.  Gas may cost as little as 10,000 in the summer and as much as 90,000 in a cold month of the winter.  The price will also depend on how big the apartment is; these prices are aimed at a one room studio.

Electric:  Electric runs the opposite as gas; in the summer it will be more expensive and in the winter it will be less.  Summer rates may run as high as 70,000, and winter as low as 15,000.  This mostly depends on how much the air-conditioner is used.

Maintenance fee:  Many foreigners are surprised by the maintenance fee for their apartment. This maintenance fee covers a number of factors that the landlord or landlady takes care of.  This often includes internet, water, building electricity (anything not in an apartment), elevator, and other maintenance.  From what I have gathered, 30,000 – 40,000 seems to be the normal rate these days, but in a more metropolitan area it may be higher.

School lunch:  If you work at a public school you will likely be paying for your school lunches once a month.  The lunches here compare favorably to my school experience in the United States, so this may be something to look forward to.  Payments for these lunches are charged once a month and are usually 60,000 – 70,000 (about 3,000 per meal).

Teacher activity fee:  This fee will most likely be optional.  At some schools, usually public, the teachers like to get together and have a social time.  This often includes some sports, food, and sometimes trips. The money paid goes towards the food and other costs of having these events.  A reliable number would be about 30,000 per month.

Christmas savings:  Now we are getting to the non-essential, but it is always good to plan.  If you are one who celebrates Christmas, it may be wise to save a bit throughout the year rather than putting a decent dent in your November/December pay. However much you want to save, divide that number by 12 to find your monthly payment. Remember to also include shipping into your savings.

Groceries:  Groceries are difficult to calculate due to everyone having their own tastes and preferences.  One thing to note is that Korean food (or native food wherever you are) will almost always be cheaper than foreign imported food.  It would be good to find local foods that you enjoy. That being said, a teacher can live on a humble budget of 100,000 per month (not including lunch), or add to that budget until they are satisfied.

Travel:  This is another item that is entirely up to the individual.  Some people like to travel every weekend, and others find that they are too busy to travel often. Most subways and buses cost about 1,100 – 1,500 per trip (including transfers), and the base cost of taxis has been edging closer to about 3,000.  Trains are harder to calculate, but a one way trip from Daejeon to Seoul costs about 10,000 for Mugunghwa (slow train), 16,000 for Semaeul (faster train), and 22,000 for KTX (fastest train). All prices are listed as economy seats.

Lets add these numbers together:

  • 35,000 – Phone
  • 40,000 – Gas (monthly average)
  • 35,000 – Electric (monthly average)
  • 30,000 – Maintenance
  • 60,000 – School lunch
  • 100,000 – Groceries

We come to a total of 300,000.  This does not include travel, doctor, or any emergencies, but it is a basic list of bills and costs of living in Korea.  When subtracted from the lowest bracket of the EPIK provincial pay scale (2,100,000), 1,800,000 is left for restaurants, clothes, apps, and any other sensible purchases.  Most student loans are going to be a fairly affordable payment in this budget.

Surprise Cake

Today I was met with a pleasant surprise other than that most of my classes were canceled due to career day.  Actually, all of today has been great!  The day began as I woke up from a full eight hours of sleep; these days more sleep is necessary due to my doctor telling me to lay off the caffeine for a while.  Once I arrived at school I found that the first three classes were canceled due to career day, and later I discovered that my fourth class was canceled due to some assembly for the students.  Next, I had lunch; Wednesdays have a lunch campaign of “clear your tray” to avoid waste.  cafeteria finds that the best way to make this campaign effective is to serve a delicious meal.  So today we had some tasty bibimbab. During lunch I was invited to take a survey for KOSTAT (Korean Statistics) concerning foreign workers.  As a thank you, I was given a 5,000 won gift certificate.  As I was walking back up to the office I had no idea that the best part of the day (that I yet know of) was yet to come.  I arrived at the office with one of my co-teachers to see that the other co-teacher had prepared a cake for celebrating my second year in Korea!


It was a delicious mocha flavored cake with macaroons on top! I am very grateful to have such kind and fun co-teachers! Once the candles were lit they began singing a pieced together version of “Happy Birthday”, but changed to “Happy Two Years”.


By the way, Korean cakes tend to be very well decorated.

Two Years in South Korea

Today marks the completion of my second year (and contract) in South Korea.  Actually I arrived in Korea on the 20th of May 2012, but I count the 21st as my arrival date since that is when I arrived at my Korean hometown.  In these two years I have learned so much about Korean culture and history.  I have learned some of the language as well, but that definitely needs more focus.  These have been some of the best years of my life, and there is no sign of that ending.  Last week I signed my third contract in Korea.

Currently I am pursuing my masters in TESOL through the University of Missouri (Online).  Having finished my first semester, I am excited for the next, and am looking forward to learning so much more.  I would recommend the University of Missouri’s online program to anyone who is considering a masters while teaching English (especially in a foreign country).  This program has been both flexible and straightforward in terms of time and instruction.

If all goes according to plan I will stay with EPIK (English Program in Korea) for at least one more contract, possibly two.  By the time I finish this new contract that I have signed, I will be mostly finished with my masters.  I will then sign my fourth contract and finish my masters.  My goal is to teach at a Korean university after my 4th or 5th contract with EPIK.

After that I have no solid plans, but I am looking forward to spending many happy years in South Korea.


Career Day

As I arrived at school today, I was surprised to see one of the English rooms’ lights were out.  I was especially surprised because this is where I teach my first class on Wednesdays.  While I may have been surprised, I was not worried.  Being the foreign teacher, I am often the last to know about things.  Later one of my co-teachers told me that today was career day.

Career day, of course!  At my school we have a career day once a month.  During this time, real professionals come to visit our school and teach about their career.  These careers can be anything from police officers, to musicians, to flight attendants (flight attendants are incredibly professional in Korea).  Career day is great for students! This is the time in their life when they are interested in many things; having various professionals explain their jobs is a great way to focus their goals.  While I was in elementary school I don’t remember learning about too many different jobs (though I did discover that I wanted to be a paleontologist).  It was in middle school that we truly began focusing on careers, though reading career almanacs was not very motivational.

In Korea, this early focus is especially important.  Koreans are faced with many important tests throughout their younger years.  Having a career in mind can help anchor the student when these stressful times are passing, and having a working professional teach the students about their job can help spark their interests.

Sewol Memorials

Last week there was a terrible accident in South Korea. A ferry carrying mostly students capsized and sank with many of the passengers trapped inside. Since the accident, the whole country has been in mourning; school trips, parties, and even TV shows have been canceled in memory of the lives lost.
Here in Jochiwon, far from the coast, we have a memorial in front of the train station. It started with a few ribbons with words of prayer and condolence and quickly grew.

Most countries come together after a tragedy, an Korea is no exception. The whole country has been touched my this event.


Magoksa (temple)

My school likes to do group activities on Wednesdays. Usually we play volleyball, but last week we went to Magoksa. Actually, we went to the same temple almost exactly one year before.

Basically we just drove there, looked around, and ate dinner. The temple was decorated for the spring season; lots of people like to get out into nature when spring rolls around.

It was a fun day, and it is always nice to leave work early.