Sunday, August 1, 2010

Seoul Train - still rolling

Okay, we didn't exactly take a train to Seoul, but I couldn't pass up the homonym (or whatever it is called).

July 31st found the Braykos making their way to Seoul in the first ever excursion as a family using public transit and venturing into the capital city of Seoul, a city of over 10 million and the fifth largest in the world.  We weren't quite sure where the busstop was, but eventually found it and headed on the red 5500 express bus to Seoul.  The trip was 45 minutes in.  It was airconditioned, clean, and packed.  The Koreans enjoy watching us and sometimes engage in conversation.  So that is fun.  We sailed past congested traffic in our very own express bus lane - sweet!

With a little help, we got off at the right stop - Seoul Station (the trains and subway comes into this spot, too, so it is HUGE).  We were so excited to finally see our exchange student, Sein, who proved to be a marvelous tour guide!  First stop - Dunkin' Donuts!  They're everywhere here.  Brent mistook a bottle of clear syrup for hand sanitizer :) (That's what happens when you can't read things.)

Next, Sein navigated us through the subway system, teaching us along the way how to use it.  We headed toward the Ancient Royal Palace called Gyeonbokgung in the heart of Seoul (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seoul_Gyeongbokgung_palace_exterior_view.jpg)  (the ancient surrounded by the modern skyscrapers and mountains).  I'll get some of my own pics in here eventually. . .  Unfortunately, it was still very hot and humid, which made touring a bit difficult for us and the kids, but we did okay.  We saw guards in traditional costume, heard the drums, walked the expansive grounds (back in the day the palace consisted of 330 buildings and had up to 3000 staff, including 140 eunuchs, all serving the royal family).  We saw the beautiful ponds and took our shoes off to go in the crowning room.  All this preserved and currently under restoration to its previous glory, in the center of Seoul.  What a contrast of old to new.  Alec was a bit grumpy and clingy and tired until we got him a map.  Then, suddenly, he became our tour guide, trying (and mostly succeeding) to read the map.  Very cute!

From there, subway again to a very traditional part of Seoul to their market called Gwangjang.  In this crowded length of street are many merchants selling inexpensive items like clothes, pottery, toys, stationery, food, etc. along with street vendors selling various food they make before your eyes.  Every now and then we would come across a street musician, one playing on his panpipe "Dust in the Wind."  Alec got his new toy, Tigress, a tiger that sings and dances (and entertained many-a-Korean on the subway trip home).  We watched the "show" as 3 young men made a candy sweet from honey and cornstarch, demonstrating in English.  They had great enthusiasm in their memorized show (much like going to Cold Stone Creamery) including  "Wow!", "Oh my God," and my favorite, "Jesus Christ!"

The highlight for me, however, was the very traditional Korean restaurant Sein found for us to experience bulgogi (Korean barbeque - NOT BBQ as a Wisconsinite would see it).    We weaved our way through an alley past tiny shops with garbage rotting outside the doors and entered what seemed to be an unmarked home with worn wood flooring, no air conditioning, and about 4 different rooms for customers to sit around a low table on cushions on the floor.  This place came highly recommended.  There were no other customers (hmmm).  We were awed by our experience that could only happen with a Korean "tour guide."  How would we ever find the place or know what to do or how to order, on our own?  Anyhow,  the five of us were seated at the low table just slightly bigger than your standard coffee table.  We got our cushions and made ourselves comfortable.  The wall paper was old and peeling and some young child (of the house many years ago, no doubt) had written on the walls!  Sein told us that the traditional restaurants are run out of the home; the proprietors live in the other part of the building and make the meals in their own kitchen.

Sein ordered bulgogi.

And then the most amazing thing happened.  Our hostess, a middle aged woman in a common house clothes, began to bring out food.  Side dishes, they are called.  Side dishes come with every Korean meal.  Side dishes and side dishes and side dishes.  Our whole table filled with side dishes until there was no more room.  Pretty soon she brought each of us a bowl of white rice (no room for that).  Next she brought out the meat - sizzling beef strips on a platter, enough for all 5 of us.  That and water, water, and more water (as it was hot and humid), and a little Soju (watered down vodka-type drink).  And so we began to eat.  And try.  Taste and marvel at all of the various flavors and colors and textures.  Sein would describe each dish and what it was made from and perhaps its history in the culture.  We ate kimchi, cucumbers the shape of pickles prepared like kimchi, seaweed, a seaweed-filled soup that tasted like sweet and sour. Also stringed potatoes- crunchy and strong, a tofu-ish thing, boiled cabbage (Anna likes that) and lettuce leaves (to serve as the "taco shell" - lettuce, rice, meat and bean paste).  Near the end a soup made of water and overly cooked rice (yuck), this being a traditional dish made from these ingredients because the poor families needed to use the crusty rice from the pot.  Then a sweet drink- also with rice.  Looked like the bottom of the dishwater with floating and sinking rice in it, but sugary sweet.  More later. . . .

5 comments:

  1. Work? Work? From your previous post, it sounds like you're on vacation! We don't need no stinkin' work!

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  2. This is Linda Wallenfang! Wow! I am so excited about your fabulous adventure in Korea! I will look forward to reading your blogs!

    Blessings,
    Linda

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  3. Wow! The joy of giving and giving back. How wonderful to be guided by your Korean exchange student. Now perhaps you can begin to imagine what it felt like when she (he?) arrived in the U.S. Enjoy!
    Lisa

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  4. Dang! I already commented and lost everything I wrote. Never mind! I'll comment again in the future.

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  5. Sounds like a great start to your adventure...I love the description of the hole in the wall "restaurant" you experienced :)

    Angela

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