Day 1 in Seoul

Our day began bright and early at 7 am. Like we said in the last post, we had only gone to bed around midnight so we were surprised to wake up at 7am. We lay in bed for a while trying to figure out what was going on and trying to recover -we were very foggy. That had been an awful flight and long-haul flights like that take a lot out of you, you’re dehydrated, confused, tired and you have almost no way of recovering because you’re going to stay confused, you literally cannot sleep because of jet lag and its difficult to drink enough water because you don’t know where public restrooms are going to be throughout the day.

Our first order of business was to get breakfast. We had wanted to go to a Paris Baguette – a huge chain bakery in Korea. As we were walking down to find it, we found a Dunkin Donuts instead. Why not? We thought, fast food restaurants are always fun and different in another country. So we tried it. There were many fun options – almost nothing was familiar. The main difference were “Chewstys” which we don’t believe are in America but they are basically a bunch of donut holes squished together in a circle – a very easy donut to eat because you pull a ball off on at a time. There were different flavors, chocolate, raspberry and olive…. So of course we had to get the olive one. Chris got it alongside a filled “Tiramisu” donut. I got a Strawberry Creamcheese filled donut and a Boston Cream Pie. We both got some coffees.

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The olive donut – basically olive oil flavored – still glazed so it’s sweet but it has an olive oil-y flavor. All of them were very good.

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The receipt gives it away – Oh! We’re in Korea!

We didn’t really have any plan or direction – we were still pretty foggy so we wandered around and unexpectedly wandered into a pretty big outdoor market place – Namdaemun Market. It was just setting up for a busy Saturday morning so we almost had the place to ourselves – for a little while. We were actually too early (if you can even do that). Because this really cool Korean superstition dictates that the first shopper of the day will set the pace for the rest of your day. Korean shopkeepers think they can trick the superstition and if they almost force their first shopper to buy something then the rest of the day will be successful – I’m sure you can see where this is going. We had people doing almost anything they could with our mutual language barriers to get us to buy things. We didn’t buy – not to spite them – but because we didn’t know what was going on still. Too early, not enough sleep.

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We were tired and confused though. And we didn’t understand why it was so empty – so we left and found a huge gate right nearby.

DSC01234The gate is considered the First National Treasure of Korea – it was one of three major gates into the city of Seoul from the 14th century onward. Sadly it was destroyed in the Korean war, rebuilt, then destroyed by arson in 2008. It’s all fixed up now and is very pretty.

DSC01238Afterwards, still dazed and confused we decided it was time to eat again. So we got some street food. A lot of Americans consider something like a food truck to be street food. This is wrong. Street food the world over can be a stand set up anywhere-  somewhere where you’re wondering how they got the electricity or water to even make food in that area. We’ve seen food sold out of trucks, in front of shops, in semi-permanent little stands, off of carts (homemade carts the size of trucks that a single man manages to push). Or it can be as simple as a woman sitting on a stool with a huge bowl full of food.

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An example of a street food setup

Chris got some street food from a kindly old lady sitting on stool selling Kimbab out of a bowl. She used a little sack to hand him a huge roll of Kimbab – basically Korean sushi but it can have mayonnaise, cheese, or anything in it. It doesn’t have to have raw fish, or any fish. He was blown away by its deliciousness.

Kaeti was stupid and got … something?? – it wasn’t bad it just wasn’t very good. There were a whole bunch of things on sticks like breaded cheese, breaded razor clam, breaded glutinous-rice (aka Dduk), breaded Pernilla Leaf (??), then one “Big Meal” that was a bunch of sample ones cut up and put on a stick. This seemed like the most fun option to try them all. So we ordered it and they deep fried it on the spot – seems good so far. Then they really wanted us to put a sauce on it so I put a sweet chili on it.

The breaded Dduck (not pictured) was bad – glutinous rice has a very strange texture and almost had a fishy taste to it – it shouldn’t but it did. The razor clam (top in photo) was good – just tasted like nothing, and the pernilla leaf was good. 

The next was sausage – ordinarily good but the US uses really light casings on their sausage while Germany, and apparently Korea uses thick casings that can be really gross to Americans -so me. So that was out. The bottom one was some kind of ham and cheese – seems like the safest of all three – it was not.

DSC01248So now Chris had a huge bag of Kimbab and most of my breaded things because I didn’t like them. He’s stuffed and I’m hungry – the story of our past three days in Korea haha.

Then we were really stupid. We were like “wah (baby crying sound) we’re tired, wah, we’re hungry, wah. Lets go back to the hotel” so we went back. “Lets take a quick nap” we thought. We’re freaking tired. So we took a real quick nap haha just kidding we took a four hour nap and woke up at 5:40 pm “Shit” We never wanted to do this, we even set an alarm but we were so tired we slept through it. Yes, we needed sleep but that is no real way to beat jetlag if you’re just going to be asleep during the daytime.

While we were still tired, we made ourselves get up an go back out. We decided to go see a really neat palace. We had to walk past the gate at dark -very pretty.

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We found a really neat ice skating rink with a famous Korean Olympic athlete towering above it for inspiration. This seems like a good idea.

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Then we started hearing loud sounds. Chanting? Yelling? It was via a microphone so we weren’t too concerned for drunkenness. But it turned out to be two separate rallies-cum-riots for … something? There were more police than we’ve ever seen in our lives -and we lived in Germany for a year. There were about 20 busses on each side of the road (there was one rally on one side of the road and another on the other side of the road). There were 10+ riot shields leaning on the outsides of each bus ready to go if necessary and 10+ police officers keeping warm in each bus waiting. There were many police officers standing around outside to direct pedestrians – of which there were hundreds so we were not some crazy dumbasses walking through the rallies. There were families and couples – things we often keep an eye out for when we’re walking around to determine if we’re in a good or bad area. So we weren’t nervous. We did, however, keep in mind that South Korea and the US are about to do their annual military drills in March. Last year these caused a huge stink and South Korea often riots/rallies against America’s involvement and possible escalation of Korean relations.  This had us a tiny bit concerned as we were the only foreigners we could see. We felt fine though and wanted to see our sights to we walked around through it. We ended up walking right through a rally because they had set up along the sidewalk – and in front of some of the sights. So we calmly walked through it, there were too many cops for anything to happen. Though we did choose to speak German to each other during this bit – just in case.

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We haven’t figured out what the rallies actually were but we’re guessing they were for awareness of issues in/regarding North Korea. There have been many police in the area for the past few days and some graphic photographs of conditions in N.Korea – pictures we have never seen in the US. The photographs are available for anyone to see – kids, foriegners, anyone. This is something that’s made an impression on us for the past few days are how involved the Koreans are politically – if they think someting is a problem they will hold a rally and the government will send out police to protect the protesters and protect anyone from getting hurt by accident/misguided anger. We’ve never heard of “Live Organ Trafficking in China” but its a huge deal here. The conditions of children living in North Korea – not a concern at home, but here everyone knows about it and has an opinion. It’s been interesting.

We got to see King Sejong – inventor of many things but mainly of the Korean language Hangul.

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As well as an important Korean general who invented a specific type of boat that ended up saving the day. The story is a little foggy for us, but it was a big deal. He hangs out nearby.

By sheer chance we wandered into Myeongdong Market – a huge shopping district and is considered one of the best in the world. It’s got everything you could ever want – Adidas, Nike, H&M, Forever 21, not to mention high end shopping. Then theres loads of food, a 5 story Dunkin Donuts, an Outback Steakhouse, and countless Korean restaurants, chain or otherwise.

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also seen - couples outfit (in yellow)
also seen – couples outfit (in yellow) and you guys laughed at our matching jackets

We wandered around at the wondrous shopping -and all the street vendors in the middle for a while, then decided we needed dinner. We spent almost an hour finding a place, we needed a menu we could read and food that we could eat. We were examining someone’s menu when they ran up and started shouting at us about how we could eat anything we wanted there. We left and they followed us about half a block. By now we’re a little frazzled – this would happen a lot, you can’t show any interest in something or else someone will pursue your business at all costs.  This is huge turnoff to us. But as we were examining another menu, the owner jumped up and ran outside “Come on in!!!” he shouted with almost a cowboy drawl. It was unusual enough the we confusedly followed him into his restaurant. Chris ordered more Kimbab (surprise). Since it was so cold outside I wanted a stew so I got “Beef stew with Condiments” (aka just beef stew with some green onions in it). Spiciest f***king thing ever. They also bring it to you in a special pot that ensures it boils for about 3-5 minutes after they serve it to you. So the spice never goes away because the temperature never cools off. It had a spicy oil that kept boiling to to the top and I kept trying to stir it away but it never did. I ate as much as I could with the rice they brought us but that was about it. A little disheartening but we’ll figure it out sometime. It’s not like I don’t have the rest of the year to figure out what I like and don’t like. And I don’t like this specific soup from this specific shop – I know this now.

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Chris’s favorite – kimbab
Side dishes of pickled radish (yellow), kimchi (red), rice. Then my boiling soup and Chris's kimbab. Oolong tea to drink.
Side dishes of pickled radish (yellow), kimchi (red), rice. Then my boiling soup and Chris’s kimbab. Oolong tea to drink.
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