Sunday, May 06, 2007

Seoul, Brother

Next morning Su Hwan asks me if I would like breakfast. Sure I say, only to walk down into a full So family dinner! All cross-legged around the table, with Mum and Dad and Su Hwan. I wasn't expecting this, and as am feeling a bit hung over, find this rather stressful! But what a breakfast! A feast! I wish I'd taken photos, but I'm never sure when it would be rude to take pictures.


A couple of jackets

Eunjeong's Mum wasn't sure what to serve me, so she decided it would be all of Eunjeong's favourites.. Kimchi chige, Kim with black rice, Kalche grilled fish, Tubu egg omelette, Snails (I think), various side dishes, all washed down with tea, then just when I thought it was finished, the yoghurt with strawberry came out. How delicious! Afterwards Su Hwan and I head out, I have a secret plan to return some of their kindness by printing photos of Eunjeong, and also picking up any other gifts I can find that are appropriate.


Emperor pose


When it comes to pay for the prints at the E.Mart Supermarket, I have to battle Su Hwan off from paying for this too, then only very reluctantly does he let me buy a nice bottle of wine from Mendoza. Just when I think the tide is turning, he springs a gift from him to me, some ginseng red bean jelly to give me strength on my travels!


Back home, I give the wine to Mr So, then he goes out, and leaves Su Hwan and I to eat lunch.

Not cooking, more.. reheating!

He then drops me at the station. What an experience it's been, they've all been so kind to me, and my only regret is that I didn't get to say goodbye to Mrs So! I'll have to pop back later :)

To Seoul
Arriving in Seoul, you imagine what countryside people think the first time they roll up - big towers in all directions, must be quite intimidating. Down to the subway, I take a train to Jongno 3 (sam) -ga. I worry that the sam bit implies it's a different station, but later learn that Sam means 3. Out into a busy street junction and I look for the hotel. After a couple of minutes of gawping and wondering why there are no maps about (even the "street maps" in the tube exits only label about 2 streets, how useful is that?!). I spot the hotel.. It's roughly in the middle of a city block, but there are no main roads going into this area. Strange. I wander through alleyways heading to where I thought it was, but as soon as I duck into the alleys I can't see it, and can't find it! So frustrating! Don't forget I've got full pack on back, reasonably heavy day-pack on front, and it's hot. I'm getting stressed.

Out after a full circuit of the block it's back to square one next to the tube station. I can see it again. Finally, by moving a bit at a time, and rechecking where it is, I arrive to find what is a really quite nice hotel given its location. All around it are small dark alleys on one side and love motels on the other, and the reason I missed it is that it sits slightly back on its plot, so until you're literally standing in the doorway, you can't see it! I'm hot and sweaty but never mind, I go out to look for a book store to buy LP. My need is great!

There are a few big bookshops several blocks from here, including the biggest, Kyobo, which surely must have it? First try, Youngpoong sold out - as it is a new edition which has just come out. My friend Jina who I met originally on the Navimag ferry in Patagonia turns up and takes me over the road to Bandi and Luni's after my Green Tea latte (c.f. frapp and wait two years for the UK to catch up!) who stock it. Jina lends me a book called KOREA - Unmasked, which is a fairly lengthy cartoon book explaining the Korean race, mentality and culture by Won-bok Rhie, who is one of Korea's most famous cartoonists. We head up Insadong, a traditional shopping area which has been well-preserved (even the Starbucks there has written its shopfront name in Korean) and go to a small but boisterous restaurant owned by a female climber, where we order an entire plate of muscles and some beer.

What shall we have then?

I don't mind, I'll try anything

Okay then, take THAT!

Meeting Yumi

So far away… London 8882km.

Next day, my first full in Seoul. I head up to everyone's first recommendation, the Gyeongbok Palace, which was the country's principle royal residence until being destroyed in the Imjin Waeran war with Japan, not by the Japanese, but by locals, angry that their leaders deserted them at first sign of trouble. It lay unused for three hundred years until being rebuilt in 1865. The palace is not so far away from my hotel, so I walk, past the large futuristic Jongno Tower, and facing the tower across the road, the Bell Pavilion, which contains an old temple bell, an interesting juxtaposition. Arriving at the palace I stumble upon the changing of the guards. They are uniformly tall with small wispy beards. I like the look. It's very colourful, with lots of flags and primary colours.

Hordes of kids besieged the palace

The makings of a fine wispy beard

Inside the temple there isn't much to see, apart from hordes of kids, but it's a big place, and one could wander the grounds for several hours, if one felt the inclination.

I head to the corner of the site where there is a Folk Museum, which recreates Joseon life, and is fairly interesting.

These statues typically guard the entrance to a village

Happy Moai

Out, and I plan to head back towards my hotel until I stumble upon a sign for the Chicken Art Gallery. Surely this is a joke? Apparently not!

The buddhist lantern festival is coming soon.

I notice signs for a Silk Road museum, and follow these for a while, the signs displaying how many metres till the museum, until about 200m before when they just stop! Where's the damn museum!!

I can't find it, and can only assume that I've passed it and it's not before?? Where! Anyway, the area I've stumbled into, Bukchon, is very nice, and from this hillside spot I see two military helicopters coming into the Prime Minister's residence, could be the big (small?!) man himself!

After, I stumble across a "Hello Seoul" festival event, but it's noisy and not really interesting. Through Insadong, which is too busy, and Dongdaemun market, which is big and potentially useful, but not so interesting if you're not buying anything.

Apparently night time is when to return, as it's all lit up, and all the eateries are full of people. Eating in Korea is a very multi-person activity. All dishes are designed to be shared. On my own, I pass restaurants which look interesting, but feel a bit sad. In fact LP says that certain restaurants do not allow single eaters. Behind the market is an interesting part of Seoul - Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Two years ago this was a large concrete road, with a small polluted stream underneath. There was some opposition to the plan, some thought that it would create congestion (perhaps "add to the.." is the right way to put it!). What they've done is remove the concrete, clean the stream up, plant trees and flowers, and now it's a lovely thoroughfare along which people walk, hopping across at points on stepping stones, and enjoying the weirs and flows.

Jina's dad is a bit poorly tonight, so I'm on my own. I contemplate going to bed early, but hey, can't do that. Out to the Platinum Microbrew pub in the South, in Gangnam. It's a multifloor building including an eat as much as you like steakhouse, but I head downstairs to the pub, and am seated in front of a strange polar scene. All fairly couply, so I turn my attention to the beers, which are fairly good.

I try their Malt, white, house and pilsner beers, accompanied with a portion of spicy sesame beef, and later some nachos, which are made up fresh. I read through my LP and annotate, noting the recommended dog restaurant, as one not to visit! Next over to Sinchon, which has lots of bars and clubs, being in between several large Universities, Hongik, Ehwa Women's and others. Here there's a Jazz Club called Blue Note that I want to find. Not easy with LP's excellent directions, but in the end I do.

In, it's quiet, but I chat with the beautiful waitress Yumi, who is studying interior design, and came to Seoul 2 years ago from Daejeon. Also next to me is a Japanese guy called Hiro who is learning Korean. I show the owner his entry in LP - he hasn't seen it before (new issue just out this month), and is so happy! He goes round the bar showing everyone, then borrows my book and wanders off to show his rival bar-owner friends! I'm happy too of course :)

Yumi in pink

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Samuel, how are you finding the crossed-legged eating?
When I was in Seoul I first discovered that I had problems with my hips: low table, sitting cross-legged for a 3 hour meal - I could hardly walk when I stood up!
Have you discovered the Shilla Hotel? (pretty sure that is the name.) It is the best hotel for accomodation and service that I have stayed at anywhere in the world. Keep up the posts!