Monday, May 07, 2007

Out of Seoul

A busy day in Seoul
Next morning I meet Jina at 10am (or perhaps a bit later, cough, that was the plan anyway), we buy kimbaps, basically like Korean sushi, filled with all sorts of things - ours are veg and tuna.

Kimbab being filled up

Then she drives us out to the Korean folk village near Suwon. It's 40-50km away, but takes absolutely hours with the horrendous traffic. There we enjoy a Farmers dance, Traditional wedding, buildings of different styles, and an awful lot of kids. One walking along next to us asks her mother "Mum, why are there so many foreigners here?"

This chewy dried squid is not chewy enough, allow me..

There go my teeth

Round they go

Impressive acrobatics

But silly hats

Get used to this pose in Korea

Making traditional sauces, some of which take years

The bride is helped


Kimchi pancake

Nosh. Soft beancurd and others

We visit Jina's Dad briefly in hospital, then go for food in Chuo market. Actually we have Korean "fast food", i.e. tteokbokki (rice cakes in a spicy red sauce) and odeng (processed seafood on a stick).

What exactly is this stuff?

Street food, spicy and tasty

Next day, I meet Yumi late morning and we walk around Sincheon before going for bbq for lunch, tasty as always, sitting cross-legged on a heated floor, but she takes me over to Namsan, the hill with the N'Seoul Tower at the top, the closest Seoul has to an "icon" - it looks a bit like Toronto's CNN tower! A bus ride up (would have been a nice walk but we're a bit pushed for time), and we head up top for the panoramic view. Round above the windows various world cities are listed together with the distances.

The tower from below



Looking down over the city from the N'Seoul Tower

Admiring the view

Next I rush off to Jongak to meet Eunjeong's friend, Sarom. She's brought her friend along, Bu Song, and together we wander up Insadong, passing some traditional dancing displays by children. We have the usual battle of the gifts, with me pleading for Sarom not to buy me anything as I'll have to carry it!! Together we eat a traditional bibimbap, then wander round the boutique shops in.. Ssamziegil. We then break into Citybank, Bu song's office, via the open back door, and she drives us all to Incheon. This is the port not far from Seoul, which has big container ships heading all over the world, especially to China which is across the West, or Yellow Sea.

Beautiful traditional dancing in Insadong

Sarom and her friend Bu Song


Some guys get all the luck

Ssamziegil Shopping Area

We meet Fong, Bu Song's boyfriend, and drive around Chinatown, for which Incheon is famous, then Jayu (Freedom) park, which has a statue of General MacArthur. Fong explains the history of it all to me, but keeps forgetting that I'm not American. I periodically point this out. Near here is where General MacArthur landed with 70,000 troops in a daring raid into North Korean territory which paid off, and within months the North Koreans were retreating. We head down to Wolmido, the seafront, where young couples fire firewoks off the promenade. Sarom asks me whether I've been to the Maldives. Not yet. Good, as we're going there now, a bar on the seafront, for some beers. We pass restaurants where people try to beckon us in. Sarom tells me they're called Bikkees. No thanks Bikkee!

Enjoying a beer in the Maldives

Next day I brunch with Yumi overlooking Cheonggyecheon river, before pottering about town - visiting Jamsil and the Seokchon Lakes

Discrete but pleasant Doulos Hotel

Pretty Seokchon Lake

Quack quack

Almost spooky

Then over to City Hall, a view many will recognise from when the Football World Cup was staged here - this is the big square which was filled with Koreans wearing red (the "Red Devils") to support the home side.

Ridiculous statement

City Hall

The ubiquitous Samsung

A replica of the famous observatory in Gyeongjo, made out of car headlamps! Interesting!

In Jongok I meet Jina and friends, and after a mini gift-war, we go for Korean bbq (Bulgogi) in Insadong.


Within seconds the meat goes from this..

To this.. Delicious!

Followed by a visit to the bar at the top of Jongno Tower for Jazz and drinks with a view. They have bottles of Alta Vista wine from Mendoza, which Jina and I have had before, so we go for that. It's not cheap, but no problem, we've agreed that I'll pay for this in return for everything else. After the third bottle though, I suddenly discover that Jina has PAID! It makes me so angry! Their solution to make me happy? Order more that I can pay for. NOT THE POINT.

The Altavista flowed freely

Jina's friends

UFOs spotted over central Seoul

Unusually elegant pose

After I meet Yumi again after she finishes work at 2am! Zzzzz!

Yumi stamping out tunes on Piano Street


Early start to check out, and a bus for me to Sokcho on the East coast. I wanted to train it, use my pass, but it's a lot longer journey as the train is very indirect. It's raining in Seoul, but I figure as I'm heading across the mountains to the other side, hopefully it will be better there. Wrong! The bus is bloody hot - what is the Korean obsession with always being roasting hot. I wonder whether they've just come out of a cold snap and no one has turned the heating off yet. I suspect this is always the case though - it's strange to sit in a restaurant eating very spicy food, on a floor which is so hot that one's backside is almost burnt! The bus is so hot I am sweating! Not nice. I arrive, and it's raining here too, not good for a beach resort. I stay in the Samsung (not the same one you know) motel, looks like the Kremlin, or perhaps Disneyland, has landed on the roof. Room is nice and hot, just the way I like it.

Quiet and miserable-looking in the rain, Sokcho Beach

Out, and I wander along the beach with my umbrella. We are fairly close to the border with North Korea here, and this shows in that all along the beach there is barbed wire, control towers, and big floodlights which light up the place at night. Apparently spies from North Korea still periodically show up. It was also around here that North Korea invaded during the Korean war. They've also caught a couple of submarines, which you can visit from here. The beach, with its course sand and closed stalls is deserted, and feels lonely.

It doesn't come fresher..

Lots of fishing going on

I walk along towards the port, which has a famous seafood market where one can eat sashimi. Strolling alongside the stalls, I don't get the same level of hassle as the locals, but I am intimidated by what's on offer. Every stall has several buckets and pots with a variety of things swimming around. Some are fish, some are urchins, or octopuses, pulling themselves into another bucket before getting thrown back by an old lady wearing rubber gloves and wellies. Then there are the "unidentified" objects. There are red things that look like fruit - I've subsequently been told they are sea squirts. Then… what on earth are the things that look a bit like a worm, the size of human intestines, that are moving, or wriggling, and opening and closing an "ending" which doesn't seem to have eyes! I don't know, but there's only one way to find out - eat it raw!!!

The street of terror

Most places as usual serve meals for 2 or 4 people. I reach the end and haven't found anywhere (alright, I was looking for a restaurant serving Italian food!), so I turn around and head back, bracing myself. I pick somewhere looks friendly, and ask for sashimi. Of course it causes a stir, a Westerner asking for this stuff. In fact I haven't seen any foreigners since leaving Seoul! They all gather round, and the chap uses a thing like a frying-pan sieve to pull out a flat fish, I think he said it was a Crown fish? He tells me the price is 50,000 won, about 27UKP, quite pricy. I hesitate, then he explains that this price is for a "package", and starts scooping up all manner of other things. I agree to the deal.

First blood

Don't worry, you're next

Sea urchin

The package is the crown fish, a smaller fish - mackerel?, a sea urchin, a sea-cucumber, a sea squirt (?!), and a squid. Within seconds it's thrown on a chopping board and the knives are out. I watch with fascination and horror as the butchering begins. These ladies obviously have done this before. I'm beckoned inside, and take my place on the baking-hot floor, cross-legged. First out is the sea-urchin, which I've had before in Japanese food. All good. Then comes a plate of "stuff". This is the sea cucumber, squirt and squid. I'm just about to pick up a piece of squid when a tentacle curles itself out of the lettuce leaves and tries to wrap itself around the chopstick. DUDE!!!!

Stuff. A fair bit of it on the move

My policy on food is that it has to be dead. Not "in the final throwsXXX of death". Dead. Not moving. I'm not eating things that are still wrigging. I prod other bits. They respond. Duuuude. I look at the other bits. Sea cucumber. Some bits move, some bits don't. I pick up a dead bit, and chomp through it. How have the other tables managed to avoid this issue, they all seem to have regular fish sashimi, and broths and things. I turn my attention to the squirt. This looks roughly like, well, a pile of tomato with eyeballs in it. But it's not moving, so I have a go. You know how when you chew something you really don't want to eat, you sort of chew using your teeth, keeping it off your tongue? Anyway, it could be worse. I poke the sea cucumber. Still here, good.

The full platter

Just then, the main sashimi plate comes out with lots of fish. Good, we have reached a safe harbour. I tuck in. It's good, very good. I've got spicy sauce, wasabe and soy, and the Korean satay sauce with lettuce to wrap stuff up in. I leave the tentacles to die and enjoy the sashimi. The flat fish is good, the smaller one slightly better flavour but has bones, which is a bit of a pain. I need help here, so ask for soju, which is the Korean vodka. The lady brings out a bottle and shot-sized paper cup. Few swigs of that for strength, then back to the task in hand. At this point I notice that whilst the fish flesh is not moving, per se, the smaller fish' flesh is.. how to describe? Quivering? Bubbling? Perhaps it's just reacting with air. Do fish twitch? I decide not to think about it, or look too closely.

In the end I finish all the fish, a fair bit of the squid, even trying a tentacle once they'd stopped moving, but a fair bit of the sea cucumber was wriggling right to till the end. I rise up, letting my backside cool off finally, and go to pay. The lady throws in the soju for free, which is nice. I wander back to my hotel happy. Nearby I find a stall serving safe-looking buns, containing glassy noodles and pork. Comfort food. Good, good. Dead! I hit the sack and let my stomach do the rest :)

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