Seoul Part II

Fri 7/15, day 30

Having looked at the map of the area we were staying in (Sangam) a bit more, we decided it would be reasonable to walk to the Han river. By this time I had gotten a little bit more familiar with the Korean maps/navigation app. When we got down near the river, there was a lot of public park type infrastructure built up, but not a whole lot of people using it. (It is during the work week and school is still in session). We did see a lot of people on bikes down along the river though, and Amy suggested we look for bikes to rent. That turned out to be very easy and a great suggestion – as soon as we rented bikes and started moving down along the river, we felt a lot more comfortable and free. We wore big smiles on our faces.

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We had the bikes for 2 hours, so we went quite a ways along the river, just observing the people and bridges and parts of the city that we could see, stopping for snack and water and ukulele jam breaks. Eventually we got back near the place we had started, and stopped for lunch at a little cafe that had chicken and beer – though not quite so fancy as what we had in Busan – they just threw some frozen chicken in the deep fryer and put it in a box with some packet sauces. There was a ton of it and we only ate half, saving the other half to bring back for dinner. Among the other folks enjoying the riverside and some snacks and soju were a few older men decked out in biking gear, with little dogs riding in the baskets of their bikes. It was weird and cute.

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After returning the bikes, we walked back a slightly different way, and found ourselves in some of the parks that were constructed for the 2002 World Cup in Seoul. We had to walk up over 400 stairs, that we numbered every 5. Each balcony had an incredible view.

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Finally we reached the top and were at the Sky Park. There was a little welcome station with some cool postcards, and it seemed like you could write them there and send them via “slow mail” anywhere in the world. So we tried to buy them from the two older women working there, which turned out to be comically difficult. They eventually got a lock box open only to discover that they didn’t have the one we were looking for, but they gave us two others, and didn’t charge us for them. Or we might have stolen them. Regardless we left smiling and confused.

We wandered through more of the park, with some interesting and random things (like the upside down bird houses) and some great views of the Sangam area. The whole park area and neighboring golf course were actually built on top of a garbage dump, in such a way that they are able to use some of the geothermal energy of the decomposing waste to generate electricity. Pretty cool.

We made it back to the apartment and picked up a few extra things for making dinner, including soy sauce. Annie had warned me that there were lots of different kinds of soy sauce in Korea, and I didn’t know anything about the one that I picked up except it was organic. I used it like I would normally with what we’ve got in the States, and almost ruined dinner! It was the saltiest, most fermented tasting soy sauce I had ever tasted. It wasn’t quite ruined though, and we made the best of it.

To be continued…

Seoul Part I

Thu 7/14, day 29

We said our goodbyes after breakfast and left the Collins’ around 9:30am. Dan was kind enough to drive us to the same Busan train station that they had picked us up at, though this time when we got there, the parking lot was completely full (cars were backing up the wrong way, very entertaining), so our plan for going in and having a donut and coffee together didn’t pan out. We headed in, grabbed some snacks for the nearly 3 hour train ride to Seoul Central Station, swapped our reservation for actual tickets, made sure we were in the right spot, and soon got on the train.

It was a beautiful and smooth ride, much less hazy outside than when we first got to Korea. As we rode through the countryside, we tried to catch up on blogging and communicated with our Seoul Airbnb host about the best way to get to his apartment. I downloaded a bunch of apps to help with the subway and navigation, but it was quite confusing and I definitely needed help. I’ve gotten very used to using Google Maps for transit and walking directions, but it’s much less useful in South Korea. Eventually I got on the same page as our host and understood what we had to do, including the last bit of walking, but then he texted and said his father would just come and pick us up at the closest subway stop in a blue van, we just had to make sure to go out exit 9. Nine exits?? Yes – the public transportation system in Seoul is very extensive, and the stations are quite large. Luckily the exits are clearly marked so it was easy to find him. We really appreciated the pickup.

A quick ride and we were at the Airbnb, which turned out to be the 6th floor (top) apartment of a building that housed a Methodist church. We knew from the description that it was run by Christians, but didn’t realize it was right above the church. Our host’s father showed us around with his limited English, and we settled in. It was tight quarters for me – track lights that were at the level of my forehead, and the bed was in a loft that I had to crawl into, but it was a really nice place. The best part was the organic garden out on the roof just outside the sliding door of the apartment, which we were invited to eat from as much as we wanted to. Eggplant, skinny green peppers (not spicy), a giant yellow cucumber, a few kinds of lettuce, kkaennip (kind of like sesame leaf), leeks, and green onions. Plenty for salads and sauteed vegetables to go with rice, which we had for a few of our meals.

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We explored a bit in the near vicinity of the apartment, locating a bakery and a few small grocery and convenience stores. Just past the stores was an open area running up against what looked like some hiking trails up onto a hill – Sangam Neighborhood Park. We walked up some stairs and within a few minutes were into the forest, up above the apartment buildings and noises of the city. A very beautiful park to have so close by. We were rewarded with some nice views as the sun set, then headed down to pick up groceries and back to the apartment to put together a meal with the produce from the garden. A nice peaceful end to a travel day.

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Korean Food

Oh Korean Food we love you! So many different flavors. Lots of fried goodness. Everything with intentionality. Beautiful presentation. Meticulous dicing and matchstick-ing of vegetables. We will definitely be hunting down Korean restaurants, ingredients and recipes once we get back to Orlando (beyond our favorite Korean BBQ Taco Box food truck).

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L to R: kimbap, sushi buffet, patbingsu, korean bbq, fancy traditional Korean restaurant, fresh fish at Jigalchi, fresh fish broth at Jigalchi, hotteok

Here’s some of the food we tried in Korea:

  • Gimbap / kimbap: sea weed wrap with rice, veggies, and meat. Kinda like meat sushi wrap in aluminum foil. Snack food or picnic food.
  • Chicken and Beer / Chimek: it’s a thing here, you’ll see tons of signs in English advertising Chicken and Beer. Syndrome was the name of one place, and after a few rounds of Chicken and Beer, you sort of feel like you do have a syndrome.
  • Dak galbi: chicken, veg and tteok in a spicy red sauce
  • Korean BBQ: frying pan and exhaust fan and all of the amazing Korean side dishes (banchan), wrapped in kkaennip (perilla, a big green leaf from the mint family) and served with lots of raw garlic cloves and delicious sauces
  • Patbingsu: really fine shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk, and traditionally red beans (sweet), ours was covered with peanut dust and had bits of tteok/dak (chewy rice cake)
  • Shabu shabu: rice paper wraps and various thin slices of meat and a variety of finely chopped vegetables; little hot pots next to you with your own broth and you cook ingredients at your own pace and make wraps, though it is a bit tricky to soak only one of your rice papers and not stick them all into one
  • Traditional Korean: all kinds of fish and kimchi and other side dishes, multiple courses, stunning presentation, but the hongeohoe was awful, see video below
  • Mandu: fried or steamed dumplings filled with deliciousness
  • Dwaeji gukbap: fatty pork soup served with rice and side dishes, Nate liked, Amy not so much
  • Kimchi jjigae: soup with kimchi, pork and tofu, brought out in a boiling pot – you get a spoonful of rice and dip it in – we had a few varieties of this with various meals.
  • Kimchi itself: always showing up in meals with different variations, vegetables, level of spiciness and stinkiness… almost always delicious
  • Fish at the fish market: some raw, some grilled, some as the freshest and most delicious fish broth we had ever tasted
  • Udon (thick noodle soup) at the 50 year old place that Samjang showed is near Jigalchi
  • Hotteok: Nate’s favorite sweet treat in the market, fried dough stuffed with seeds and nuts and butter and brown sugar
  • (name?): a restaurant we ate at after visiting the temple; we sat on floor, ate meat and kimchi and stuff
  • Korean buffet: a fancy place to go, not a bottom of the barrel place to go in this country (no offense to people who like buffets in America). Some of them have really fresh sushi, Korean-style Chinese food, create your own Bi-Bim-Bap and Patbingsu, and lots more.
  • Cooking at home: as much as we ate out, we did cook and eat at home as well. Spaghetti, eggs in a nest, lentil and potato dahl, fajitas, and more.

Busan Part X

Mon 7/11 – Wed 7/13, day 26-28

The last few days of our time in Busan run together: we all played basketball together, played cards together, got ready to travel to Seoul.

The boys all went out to Home Plus for dude time and to pick up some groceries. Asher and Calvin love this little “4D” experience for kids called “Max Rider” right in the store. The kids sit on a moving platform with polarized glasses on; the door closes and the selected animation plays. Kind of like a mini version of the Star Wars experience at Disney. Ice cream followed, and Nate was initiated into the boys club cheer: “Boys… to… the… end!” (picture one fist in for each word, then all exploding upwards). Fun times.

The girls stayed home and did our nails and watched some of the BBC Pride and Prejudice. Phoebe pampered me and made cute cat designs and paw prints on my nails, Maddy did pandas and bamboo on Annie’s, I did dot designs on Maddy’s, and Phoebe had lost interest by the time it was her turn. I will say that Phoebe and Maddy were not as enthralled by Pride and Prejudice as Annie and I were. The quality of the YouTube version wasn’t great either, but I still feel that Mr. Darcy translates well on a grainy screen and Elizabeth Bennett is as sharp and endearing as ever.

Once we were all back together (meaning the men came home), we had a dance party. Well, it was more Maddy and Phoebe, but when Sia’s Alive is played, I can’t help but dance around. We also showed the girls the very interesting, but definitely odd Sia’s Elastic Heart video of Shia LaBeouf dancing with the strange little girl. It’s captivating but a bit disturbing: of course interpretive dance is up to interpretation, but it seems like they are acting out the battles and difficulties that fathers and daughters sometimes have. Phoebe kept on asking, “What is this video about?” She was definitely not satisfied by, “What do you think it’s about?” We tried to explain, but she thought it was just weird. Perhaps it is. But the girls were inspired by the style of dance all throughout their performances. It was really fun to watch them dancing and expressing themselves in this way.

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On Wednesday the weather was clear and we all piled in the van for one last excursion: the Mountain Temple.

Before we headed out, Maddy and I needed our date time together, so we went down to the basketball court and had a little bit of 1-1 training. It was hot, but we had fun. I love teaching and she loves learning. We made a good team. After about 30 minutes, we hopped in the van for the Mountain Temple.

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It was a beautiful day to be outside. We walked up and up to the temple complex through a nice little forest with running water beside it. Through the temple gate, there were large (and ominous) Buddhists figures stomping on the heads of people. In each little temple, there were people praying. As an observer, I knew that if I took my shoes off I could go inside, but it felt different than going into all of the churches in Europe. I was welcome to go inside each temple, but for some reason I stayed respectfully outside.

Most of the paint work and decorations have been redone over the years and it is stunning. Vivid detail and inviting colors. Monks walking through the courtyard on their way to prayer time. Quiet people respectfully bowing their heads to their ancestors.

The kids were outside and wanted to run around; we tried to get them to be quiet, but I remember thinking adults were always trying to get us to be quiet, when I was a kid. But in a holy place, even if it’s not your holy place, teaching them to respect the quiet and contemplation is still important, and a challenge.

There is a beautiful wooded area with climbing rocks like a staircase just off of the main temple court. It is a place of quietude. I was seeking solitude in this peaceful place. A few monks climbing and a noisy family of 8 (us). It was like Muir Woods. I felt forest alive. I don’t know if that’s a thing, but I could have set up camp here as well. In normal life, in the outskirts of Orlando, it is difficult to feel nature’s calming force. Spending time in these temperate forests, makes me want to explore the natural beauty of Florida. The main problem there is when you actually do find yourself surrounded by nature, it 90 some degrees and a hundred percent humidity, thus making it difficult to enjoy said nature.

We picked up ping-pong paddles the next day and the girls and Nate and I headed down to the very nice new tables in the apartment complex. Maddy and Phoebe haven’t played very much so it was mostly us teaching them, trying to get some volleys going. The girls are both very performative, so as we took turns, when their turn would come up they would each have a “dramatic entrance” (think Kung Fu Panda 3, if you’ve seen it). There was also a lot of dramatic commentating. A lot. A bit later, Dan and the boys came down, and Nate and I each got in a few good games with Dan, in between giving the kids turns. Sweaty once again, we all headed upstairs for dinner and a final hangout time before our early departure the next morning. Nate got in a little time playing video games with Asher and violin with Maddy. It had been a packed, amazing two weeks, with lots of food, laughs, sites, unique experiences, and quality time. Thank you Collins, we are so grateful for our time together!

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Busan Part IX

Sun 7/10, day 25

Church was easier for me today and I even interviewed a Canadian about the political situation in the US and his perspective of Korean politics as an expat. After church, we debated for a little while about what we wanted to do. Nate was feeling pretty tired and in need of some alone time. We had planned on just relaxing at home after church since we had been doing a lot. But the weather had cleared up and Dan & Annie’s friend Samjang was available to be our guide to Jigalchi fish market, so we collectively decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Not everyone was excited about a possibly stinky fish market, but it is one of the largest in the world. I had to see this. A few months ago, Conan O’Brian went to South Korea and visited a bunch of stuff around Seoul. It is hilarious. We wanted our own little excursion like his.

We sent Asher and Dan off to the other campus to preach and the rest of us headed to Jigalchi in the van. As we mentioned before, the van is big and stick shift and not Annie’s favorite thing to drive, so Nate drove, following Samjang all the way there and then through what seemed like an hour wait in line at the nearly full parking garage. Apparently everyone else in Busan had decided to go as well. Driving in Korea is an adventure – you have to be both offensive and defensive. The things people do on the road don’t really make sense. Tons of lane changes, lots of honking and close calls, motorcycles going the wrong way through red lights, people not stopping for pedestrians at a crosswalk or honking at you if you do… but we made it.

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Jigalchi is a huge indoor fish market, with hundreds of vendors. It has dripping water everywhere. Fish tank upon fish tank. Big fish and little fish. Fish that look really weird like male anatomy. Eels that have been skinned, but are still alive. Fish jumping out of their tanks, I guess committing suicide. It got a little bit crazy when someone bought a fish and had them butcher it right there. Calvin and the girls turned around to look and might have seen the big butcher knife lop off its head. Hopefully they turned away. If not, a real-world opportunity to talk about the circle of life.

Samjang asked if we wanted to try some of the fish. The easiest way is to exit the indoor market and head to the outdoor market with dead fish and a few tanks with live fish. We weren’t interested in a huge meal, just more of a taste. We wandered the outdoor market and it did not smell great. But the kids were troopers and it was something that they were at least curious about like the rest of us.

Samjang helped to translate and get some fresh fish, which they killed once we went inside the restaurant. She ordered just a small amount for the 3 adults and 3 kids. But I will say that a ton of food still came. Fresh fish, raw fish, fish head stew, and all of the wonderful (or not so wonderful) side dishes.

We were joking about who would eat the fish eyes. Maddy volunteered. Seriously? Yes, she was serious, but had to work up the nerve to eat the fish eye. She popped it in her mouth and tried and tried to chew it. Finally, after nearly half a minute, she spit it out. You can watch this action packed video too. We high-fived her and congratulated her on being awesome enough to try a fish eye.

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After the fish market, we headed to a big street market to try and get some souvenirs and sample the wide variety of street food. It felt like we stopped every few steps and ate another delightful (or at least interesting) treat: very fine, stringy, crunchy candy; pastries filled with honey and seeds; cotton candy is an art form here and seemed nearly as big as Calvin with multiple colors and in the shape of a giant flower; waffles with whipped cream; some kind of fried potato on a stick.

Needless to say when Samjang suggested that we stop for udon noodles at this special place she knew, we tried to beg off that we were already more than full. But to no avail. We went into this restaurant that has only done udon (thick) noodles for the past 50 years. You know it’s a good place when you have to climb little narrow stairs and bash your knees. We ordered a few bowls of udon noodles in a sort of soup. It was fantastic and we were full. Very, very full.

The street market is humongous and we had been walking for a long time, but the hunt for souvenirs was still on. I have a strange knack for finding postcards. We searched and searched and didn’t really see normal tourist shops or stands. Mostly electric fans and other home goods. Not really what I wanted to bring back as a memento. Finally, I walked down a lane and saw a few touristy things and inquired if they had postcards. They did! A big pack from in and around Busan. A few shops later and we had our South Korea flag patches and a few other fun small things to remember our time by.

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The sun was going down, but we decided to go on top of the Lotte department store and watch the sunset and the incredible view of the city. It didn’t disappoint.

We got home a lot later than we had planned, getting a bit lost on the way home, with Annie and Nate doing their best to navigate with the Korean-only app that can deal with directions in Korea, but we had a full and wonderful day. All’s well…