Woke up at 5:30 infuriated. Jetlag is a cruel mistress. So we didn’t fight it or bite the pillow, we just got up and got some coffee.
Korea is known as the “land of the morning calm” so we wanted to see how calm a city of almost 10 million could be. More calm than you would expect.
We didn’t know what else to do so we went wandering around in search of breakfast. We found ourselves in Myeongdong where we got to have some nice breakfast a few stories up. Myeongdong shops are often open 24/7 so there were people shopping at 7 am, but mostly we watched commuters and countless delivery vehicles.
Since we live right next to these major markets (Myeongdong and Namdaemun) we’ve walked through them 2-3 times a day, everyday. Since it was our last day in Seoul we felt like we needed to buy a few things we had been seeing constantly. I saw a pair of shoes I was convinced I would fit in. Chris really wanted these special pants all the Korean men wear. They look warm as hell, they’re an outdoor warming/breathable fabric. All the shopkeepers who work outside all day wear them. So we went hunting for these things.
Chris had massive success. I did not – my shoe saleslady and her wagon of shoes (just haphazardly thrown on top of the wagon) wasn’t out that day. At least Chris got some pants though.
These are like the Carharts of Korea – warm, windproof, lined with fleece, flexible. It even comes with a belt. A true working mans pants. All you men at home should be jealous – in fact, some of you may be getting these in the mail come Christmas. If you really want a pair let us know.
Our feet and legs are pretty dead from the past few days of walking. We’ve easily been walking 7+ miles a day. We both bought brand new shoes in anticipation of our move to Korea, so combining this new high-milage walking with new shoes – sores, bruises and ingrown nails galore. We’re just limping around at this point. We decided to take a subway somewhere … anywhere, we just don’t want to walk around so much anymore.
We decided to go see a pretty famous mall – DCube. We got it and another mall mixed up so we thought there would be more to do in the area. This turned out to be good because we didn’t have any buisiness walking around. The subway deposited us directly in the basement area of DCube. All we had to do was walk in.
We walked around for a bit, it was all pretty nice, high end stuff. An H&M (our favorite shop from Europe). A North Face store, lots of mountain climbing equiptment in Seoul (nice mountains nearby). We found an all kids floor – stuff for maternity and chidlren but also a Pororo Cafe (he’s like the Spongebob of Korea – every kid knows him) and a Pororo train. Yes, a little kids train on the 8th story. There were many grandparents on outings with their grandkids. Lots of shouts of “Halmoni!” aka Grandma! Also some crying “Hal-mohhh-neee. Ani, ani, ANI YO!” tantrums (aniyo means “No” but I think the build up to “No” is actually really cute)
There was also some kind of Pororo club – it was a members only club, $180 was a price we saw, we don’t know if this was a per month or a yearly price. It works pretty well because it wasn’t so busy and there was some pretty cool stuff. If I had a preschooler I think I would probably be a proud card carrying member of the Pororo the Penguin club.
We found an amazing food court in the basement. It was almost too complicated for us to figure out but we watched a few people before we figured it out.
Oh I’m sorry, is that a gargantuan schnitzel! Hell yes it is! And it’s a common Korean dish too. The Germans have had their fingers in Asian pies for a while – teaching them to make beer and bringing them potatoes. A common sight in Korea is “Coffee and Hof”. Plenty of shops have had German imported groceries.
This gargantuan schnitzel is called a Don Katsu. It’s a deep fried pork cutlet (schnitzel) with some kind of brown gravy + orange juice sauce. That’s what it tastes like, at least. And it’s damn good. Just a little heavy compared to many other Korean dishes. Chris had a bulgogi (marniated beef) fried rice.
We walked around the mall for a while then got tired. We had really wanted to try a chain bubble tea restaurant called “Gong cha” so we did. Bubble tea is a very Asian drink that exploded in popularity only recently around the world (we got some in little old Karlsruhe once). The bubbles themselves are tapioca. Which doesn’t sound that bad – drink a little milk tea, chew on a little tapioca. It’s like a tea pudding snack drink.
Chris was strange and got sliced aloe in his though. Yes, aloe.
It’s really neat and I think many of you at home would like these. You can pick the amount of sugar, ice, bubbles, etc. You could make the perfect drink.
We got bored of Dcube but found a huge Home Plus, basically a Korean walmart. We wanted to see what kinds of grocery shopping to expect in our future, and you know, we were bored. So we checked it out. It had everything we could ever need – which is reassuring for the year(s) ahead of us. Something we found that was interesting was this:
20,000 dollars for Folgers!!!! No, but it’s about $20 for that.
We decided we wanted to see this really obscure market for absolutely no reason except to punish our feet a little more. So we blew by our Seoul Station stop to about three stops away. The market was really nothing. It was kind of cool in that it was a marketplace for fashion designers – you could buy any type of fabric in any quantity, any button or accessory. There was an entire block of shops devoted to just ribbons, strings and lanyards.
But this can only entertain someone for so long. So we started walking home. Limping, actually. It was a blessing in disguise because we had a nice walk along Cheonggyecheon again. We can’t seem to stay away from this river, it’s too much like home. Because of all this random walking we got to see a nice sunset.
Since we got to Korea, I’ve been really wanting to try some Soondubu Jiggae. A soft tofu stew that involves cracking an egg into it and all sorts of stuff. Since we had food court-food for lunch we wanted something lighter. Soondubu Jiggae seemed perfect. We hunted around for a while during the prime dinner time for Seoul – try battling half a million people for a place to eat. Some restaurants were absolutely packed. In fact, our favorite chicken place we ate at a few nights ago was just screaming at people to “get out we’re full” when someone didn’t leave quick enough one waitress, chicken in hand kicked the door shut behind her.
We found a few places but they were packed. Finally we found one that was quieting down. We got seated and ordered – I tried ordering in Korean which was met with blank stares. Finally we got everything in order. Pretty soon we each got a pot of rice we wanted to see if it was rice or soup (they both come in a hot pot). The waitress who gave them to us heard me ask Chris if it was rice or soup, she turned around, and angrily began ladling rice into a bowl. Explaining something in Korean through her teeth. I’m sorry lady but if your menu has even a infinitesimal amount of English on it, foreigners will come. Plus, you know, it’s rice it’s not even something difficult.
For the rest of the meal, the Matron of Soondubu Jiggae kept coming back to see if we were doing things right. You’re supposed to crack an egg into your stew for taste and to cool it down. The second I touched an egg she came rushing over, I have never been so scared to crack an egg in my life. What if a piece had gone in. She probably would’ve made me eat it to teach me a lesson or something. Man she was angry and watchful of us. She wasn’t even that old to be so angry all the time. That old? What do you mean?
Lets talk about Ajummas
Korea uses familiar terms to refer to people. Lots of countries do this. Ghana even did this in that a person older than me should just be called “Auntie.” Korea has many levels of these terms based on age, marital status and relation to the speaker.
“Ajumma” literally means aunt or married woman but is a term used for the same exact type of person. The Ajumma – black permed hair, large visor, scowl.
Completely pissed off all the time unless in the company of other Ajummas. These women hate Waegukin (foreigners). And maybe they don’t hate but they do love to glare at us. They have reached a point in their life where life is hard. Bones are creaking, wrists ache, it’s getting hard to hear, and the world owes something to them to make it all better. They grew up as the scullion to other ajummas and now its their turn to have the world kiss their feet. They will shove people aside, shush people, they do what they want.
It’s surely only a matter of time before an ajumma is going to put us in our place. So it makes since now to explain to you who they are and what they want.
our story continues…
Our Soondubu Jiggae Matron was certainly not old enough to be an Ajumma but she sure did act like one. Grumbling her way around the restaurant, staring. Ugh. We found ourselves sitting up a little higher, using chopsticks a little more properly. We kept an eye on her so it’s really lucky we got a moments peace to snap a picture of our food.
1/10 would not eat at that restaurant again. Unless hybrid Unnie-Ajumma isn’t working that day.