Some say that he has two left hands, and his nose can tell when it will rain. All we know is that he's called DFM.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Episode 17: In Which DFM Spends A Day Exploring Down Town Seoul

Today was my big trip to Dongdaemun (Great East Gate) with Conor, the English teacher I met at COEX mall my first week here.  It was also the first really warm day of spring and I wore a T-shirt and shorts (making me the only man in Korea wearing shorts).

I took the subway to our meeting point and Conor took the bus.  However, apparently there was a massive protest rally/march being held downtown and all of the buses were caught in traffic.  I later saw police in riot gear walking around.

While I was waiting for Conor I saw a man pushing this giant cart of fruit down the sidewalk.  He got to a busy section of the sidewalk and rather than waiting he just yelled at everyone a lot and pushed his cart through.  I later learned from Conor that the street vendors buy their spots on the street from the Jopok, which is why I always see the same vendors in the same spots.

Well, there it is, the Great East Gate.  There used to be four of these large gates and a wall surrounding what used to be the entire city, but now there are only two and they're in the middle of downtown Seoul.  An arsonist burnt down the Namdaemun gate last year during another protest which caused a day of mourning.

I mentioned to Conor that I was looking for a traditional Korean tea set and so he took me to Insadong where there were many tea shops.  Insadong was also on my list of things to see in the city and I got to check out the very expensive, very high-end Beautiful Tea Museum so it was a win-win for me.  

The Beatiful Tea Museum is not so much a museum as a store where artists will put on display/sale their unique tea set creations and you can find specialty teas for $250 or more.  I decided to move on and see a smaller store called Wellbing Tea (not a typo, perhaps Kongrish) that had owners who apparently remember each and every one of their customers.

On the way over we found more than one driver trying to turn down a closed street.  This guy ran into a barrier, and then tried to back up (you can see the reverse lights) right into a crowd of people.

Eventually we got to the Wellbing tea shop where I bought a lovely traditional tea set and some uniquely Korean herbal tea.  The woman on the left is the owner and I'm pretty sure the man in blue is her son.  The woman at the back, sitting down is the man's wife (I think).  When we came in, the man in blue, Yoon Chul-Won, immediately recognized Conor from when he bought his own tea set five months earlier.  He asked if he was still teaching English and if he was still teaching Middle School children?  It was incredible the memory he had.  I might come back again some day just to test out if he remembers me too.

Insadong is also famous for this, the only non-English Starbucks sign in the world.  Not even China gets to have a Chinese Starbucks sign, so it's quite a big deal here.

Many of the side streets are closed for tourists on Saturday as I mentioned before, but many drivers don't want to wait.  Here we have a barrier that has been run over by an impatient Seoulite.

Here's America's contribution to the Insadong area.  Classy.

These elderly drummers are quite famous and will perform in many of Seoul's parades.  Here they are just practicing, but they were still practicing when Conor and I came back two and a half hours later.  I was told it was their exercise and that all the bouncing up and down and whacking of drums could burn up to 1000 Calories an hour (although I'm not sure if that's true).  Many tourists will get pulled into the mix and you can find awkward and embarrassed foreigners (and locals) trying unsuccessfully to keep up these these exceptionally fit elders.

More Kongrish for you:  A DVD Kinema.  Is that like a DVD Cinema?  In Korea you can rent a private room for $7.00 and watch DVDs.  These are quite popular and you can see two more DVD rooms advertised further down the street on the right hand side of the picture.

Conor's girlfriend is taking a Master's degree at a local University and after she got off work Conor invited me to come for dinner with them.  We had Sam Gye Tang.  Each person gets a pot of soup with onions in it.  Inside the soup is a whole chicken that has been stuffed with rice.  You tear open the chicken and eat it with your chopsticks while using your spoon to finish off the rice-soup afterwards.  As with every Korean meal I've had so far this one was delicious.  

Astute readers may wonder why the term "dak" did not appear in the title of the meal.  That is because it is a very ancient meal developed before the invention of the Hangul (Korean alphabet) when the Chinese language was still widely used.  Gye is the name of the Chinese character for chicken.

Afterwards Myung Jin (Conor's girlfriend) suggested we go for a ferry ride on the Han River.  I jumped at the chance since it was yet another item on my To Do list that I would be able to check off.  The night started to turn cold and rainy, which made me regret wearing shorts and a T-shirt.  But the cruise was lovely and Myung Jin pointed out all of the interesting sights along the river.  Conor and I had an interesting discussion on Korean history including Korean-Japanese relations which is apparently still a very sore topic in Korea.

By now it was about 9:30 PM and I had been out for about 11 hours so I decided to go home and get some well-earned rest.  It is the end of my second full week here and I can't wait to see what next week holds in store for me.

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