Seoul Part IV

Sat 7/16 – Sun 7/17, days 31-32

On Saturday, Amy found a cool looking market of hand-made goods to go check out not too far from us, so we headed out in the morning, a 20 minute walk or so to the subway station then just one stop from Digital Media City to Hongik University. We got off the subway and entered a sea of people, mostly young people, in and around the subway stop. This was definitely a popular area to hang out in, especially on a Saturday. Unfortunately, it was raining off and on that morning so they had canceled the market. But there were plenty of shops to check out, and we found some good gifts and souvenirs. Off and on, Amy took out the phone and microphone, trying to psych herself up to approaching strangers for the podcast. That first successful interview is so important – if she gets that, she’s golden. But it just wasn’t happening today.

For lunch we chose an interesting looking restaurant that served “kongbul.” We walked down the stairs to see tables with burners in the middle and people eating from giant woks with lots of food in them. We tried to order one thing to split given the amount of food we were seeing, but that wasn’t allowed (we were politely told). So we ordered two servings of one of the styles of kongbul. The wok comes out with the uncooked ingredients arranged nicely, and they turn on the heat and get the process going. Someone comes by to stir it up every now and then and tell you when it’s done. It was delicious, we somehow finished it all, and we didn’t need much more to eat the rest of the day.

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Sunday, we decided to get going earlier in order to see the National Museum and War Museum before the 2pm church service that we wanted to attend at the Methodist Church whose building we were staying in. A little more familiar with the area, we took a different walking route through Digital Media City to the subway, through some large pedestrian plazas filled with really cool large public art sculptures. We also stopped for coffee from Coffee Temple, which had great ratings online and whose owner had won many prizes at national and international barista competitions. We weren’t disappointed.

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By the time we got to the National Museum, we had about 2 hours before we needed to head back for church – not a lot of time at all. We decided to spend one hour at the National Museum then head to the War Museum. So we asked for some advice on what to see, and zipped through the exhibits, slowing down for the highlights and some Chinese and Korean painted scrolls whose style Amy had been working on mimicking recently. It’s definitely worth a visit, especially because admission is free!

A little over an hour in, we had made our way through, including the requisite stop at the gift shop, and headed out to the War Museum… except it was further away than we thought it was going to be. So we abandoned that plan and Amy decided to try interviewing some of the people that were milling about the park-like space around the National Museum. She approached a small group of Koreans and asked if anyone spoke English. A woman pointed at her son and said, “He does.” He was probably about 14 years-old boy sitting. Amy asked if he would be up for answering a few questions. Uh, ok. After interviewing him, she approached a woman sitting near some kind of photo shoot. The woman didn’t speak much English but pointed to what may have been her daughter, the young woman who was posing for multiple photographers and videographers. Though a bit embarrassed and somewhat frustrated by trying to put into English words her thoughts, she happily engaged with Amy’s questions. The young guys who were doing the shoot were thrilled with the whole thing and continued shooting while Amy interviewed her.

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As that interview finished up, an older Korean man approached me and started talking about, of all people, Jeb Bush. His English was excellent, and his manner a bit odd. He explained to me that Jeb Bush was not successful in securing the nomination of the Republican party because he lacked the strength and fortitude of mind of his father and brother. Had he been able to secure the nomination and the presidency, he would have extended the reign of the Bush family to the entire world, eventually. Amy came over and started talking to him about what she was doing with the podcast. Amidst the other things he was talking about, and having learned that Amy was my wife, he slipped in this jewel out of nowhere: “It is not often that someone who is mentally retarded [referring to me] is able to secure such a beautiful bride.” Um… did I just hear that right? Well we kept on talking for awhile (mostly he kept on talking) and he actually had some insightful things to say about the way Koreans have looked at Republican presidents, historically. When Amy tried to wrap up by asking him his first name and where he was from, he said, “I must politely decline to answer your request, as it is my prerogative to not share this information, and it has zero relevance to the things we have been discussing.” No problem man, it’s been nice knowing you. He wouldn’t go away though, and tried to help walk us to the subway station he thought we needed to go to. But I wanted away from him as fast as possible, so we went down the stairs to the station the way we had come up, saying thank you, no thank you, we’ve got it, goodbye…

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We made it back just in time for the church service, which was a fun experience, though it was almost entirely in Korean. Our host had arranged for a few university students to help us navigate the service and be available for podcast interviews afterwards. During the service, our host’s father welcomed us and told the congregation a little bit about us. He even invited us to come up and say something if we wanted to, and I took him up on the offer. Here are some thoughts I wrote down during the service:

Language. The Lord speaks all of them. I try and read the Hangeul as we sing, but it’s still too fast. Singing is a good way to learn language though. I think of people who don’t have scripture in their own language. I think of immigrants and visitors to the United States who don’t speak or read English. I think about Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit when the people could understand all of the languages being spoken around them. As we sing hymns with an organ and folk-y songs with a guitar, I think about the influence of Western missionaries and the West in general. There’s a lot of decoration in religion. Some more explicit, some less. But love is the glue.

Food is glue too. I think about how much of our time in Korea has been dominated by trying different foods, finding them, eating them. And for much of human existence, getting, making, raising, harvesting, preparing, eating food, has dominated our lives. A meal is important, central. A shared meal even more so. I can’t speak your language but we can share food, try each others’ food. The Luke passage this morning references food. [The preacher breaks in with English… God is so good… He’s so good to me]. I think about how much hospitality we have experienced throughout this trip. People doing things for us out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they have to or are expected to. Music is another universal language. And art. And sports. To certain extents. Food feels particularly important though.

After church, we had some snacks and coffee with a small group of young Koreans (and one older couple) who were interested in being interviewed for Amy’s project. It was a good discussion, though at times it was hard to convey certain questions, though their English was a lot better (a few of them had spent time in college in the States). We sat around for an hour or so, as Amy and I tried to facilitate a wide ranging discussion about Trump and Clinton, the presence of nearly 30,000 US troops in Korea for the past 65 years, fears about North Korea, proposed reunification of Korea, typical western faux pas in Korea, life in America versus life in Korea. We did not get as far as Amy wanted, but it was a productive and interesting conversation with about 6 Koreans participating: 3-4 students, an elderly man and his wife, and a travel writer. They were good sports and generous with their time.

We took a taxi to Home Plus to stock up on a few things for our next destination. Back at the apartment, we cleaned up, went through our stuff, packed and ate dinner, and otherwise prepared for the next day’s travel to Nepal!

3 thoughts on “Seoul Part IV

  1. Gail

    Haha. That bit about the guy saying you’re mentally retarded was so funny. What was he thinking??? I just checked my flight and we overlapped one day in Seoul. I stayed at near Hongkik University Station. We may have walked by each other not knowing it!! Great to meet you guys!

    1. nathan Post author

      Great question. He was a strange character. That’s crazy that we were in Seoul at the same time! Really great to meet you too!

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