Thursday, May 03, 2007

Eunjeong's Family

As my travel plans are being made up as I go along, I've turned up in Daegu, the hometown of my friend Eunjeong, without really letting her family know I'm coming. So I buy a phonecard and call them. It's a difficult conversation, but I convey that I'm at the station, and I think they're coming to get me. I'm aware that I'm lacking in the presents department, having only some Muji tea I picked up in Shimonoseki, but before I have a chance to get anything else, Eunjeong's brother, Su Hwan arrives! I hope I'll be able to pick up some things later.

He drives me to a shopping centre, where we head upstairs to an office where I meet Kim Sung Sun, Eunjeong's mother. I hand over the tea and feel inadequate, but they all seem very nice. We go together for lunch of kalbe, a Korean bbq, with hungjongshi, which is, errr, other stuff. Su Hwan asks me if I want pork, as he points at the meat. Okay I say, so he calls the waitress and receive a fork. Of course, Korean chopsticks are the toughest to use - they're thin metal as opposed to anything with any grip, and not being round they tend to clip together awkwardly. This wouldn't matter if I had proper chopstick technique, but I tend to scissor - I know how to do the proper style, just prefer mine.

So as usual, there is the painful moment as everyone watches the Westerner pick up the first piece of food with chopsticks. I've chosen a thing a bit like a potato-cake, coated with a sweet and quite spicy sauce. Of course I almost drop it as I bring it up to my mouth, so bite prematurely and smother red chilli sauce all round my mouth. All part of the fun. As Eunjeong had taught me before, in Korea it's very important that you don't pour your own drinks - one should use two hands to pour the bottle and always look after others, which I try to do. Also two hands holding your glass for receiving it.

In general I'm on full-scale social test mode, so am carefully watching my opponents over the table, studying their every move and learning. One thing that I'm severely disadvantaged over is that this is the old sit down on floor cross-legged table - basically extremely uncomfortable if you're not used to it. I try not to shuffle too much as I attempt to keep blood flowing beyond my knees. Anyway, that all said, the food is great, spicy but in the best fashion, and I'm proud to have no issues despite Eunjeong's mother saying she thought it was quite spicy.

As we leave the restaurant, I notice that our shoes, which one takes off on entering, have all been turned 180 degrees for our convenience. Cute touch. I offer to pay but don't expect to get away with it. Little do I realise as we leave that this is the tip of the ice-berg. The war of kindness has begun with its opening salvoes over the bay of generosity! Next we grab a coffee, and again, no chance of paying.

Back to the office, and a few photos in the wedding area. This is the family business. To my untrained eye, it looks extremely kitsch, but that's probably the Asian way. With a few touches of a remote control, the large neon hearts light up, and we take our matrimonial shot!

What a sweet couple!

After out again, to meet Su Hwan's girlfriend, Jung-min, as she wants to buy some books, something we have in common. We go to Kyobo bookstore, which is a chain from Seoul, and a quite big shop. They have a large section of LP guides, on almost every country in the world, in English… but .. this being Korea and all.. no Korea guide! I pick up a Korean phrasebook instead, or rather Jung-min buys it for me. Yes, I had it wrenched out of my hands as I approached the till. This is going to be an issue!

We enjoy a hotbar - a cheesy thing on a stick as we wander the dongsung- ro, or downtown area. Daegu is relatively small compared with Seoul, which makes the centre walkable. The roads on the other hand, are terrible. I don't know who town-planned the place, but they need to be shot. To go from A to B always involves half a dozen U-turns, all sorts of junctions and plenty of cutting across multi-lane roads of traffic, all of which Su Hwan seems to relish.

We head to the family house. It's above some seafood restaurants, and is a largish two-story flat at the top of the building, gated with a large ornate metal door and frame in black. Most things are downstairs, shower, the parents' rooms etc, but Eunjeong and Su-hwan's rooms upstairs, along with a small patio garden. Su-hwan is giving me his room to stay in, which is very nice of him. I jump in the shower and of course wet the whole room. I wonder if this is bad form in Korean culture. No helping it though.

Next I meet Dad, with me feeling terrible as I have no gifts despite staying here. Out, pick up Jung-min then head towards Palgongsan mountain area at the edge of Daegu, where we're going to a special restaurant serving Samgetan - a very healthy dish of chicken boiled with congee.

The lovely Su Hwan and Jung-min

As it's so healthy, they give you a pot of salt to dip the chicken in, and surround it by spicy side dishes. We have a minari - a spicy Korean salad, tongdongju - rice milk water alcohol which doesn't feel strong but may be. Will find out later.

I'm feeling hungry just writing this blog looking at these photos!

Jung-min looks after us

As the boys enjoy!

It's interesting how the whole table rules work in Korea. Alpha male always pays. If you've invited several of your junior colleagues out to dinner, you will pay, no debate. If your boss then turns up mid-dinner, this responsibility switches to him. Seniority in age or position all count to making you top of the pile. As a foreigner, I'm not sure where I fit in, but I gather it's fairly low - I'm not allowed to pay for anything here, something which makes me feel a bit uncomfortable to be honest. Alpha female round the table tends to look after the group - keeping an eye on the meat on the bbq, or spooning out things. More of this as I experience it :)

After we go together to a bar, the Bubble bar. It's loud hip hop, which we don't realise until too late, and no one is there. A couple of beers later we head out then split. My first experiences of Korean beer are Hite beer, the standard - I've even tried this in London with Eunjeong, and Cafre beer - which has a (to me) somewhat unpleasant burnt taste. Each to his own. It's been a fun evening…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Better than last time.
You look like KOREAN!
What happen? huhu