A Travellerspoint blog

South Korea

First day in Seoul

sunny 68 °F

I had an early flight and managed to get on a local train to the airport rather than the express, so I was under a bit more time pressure than I like. Fortunately, check in and security went efficiently. This was my first leg outside the Delta system, using Korea Air. Unfortunately, I couldn't check in in advance online or by phone - there isn't seamless transfers of info among the systems.

Anyway, off I went on time. Here's a pic of the seat and of the nice big TV in business class on Korean Air.



This was only a 2 hour flight so we had time for a meal and that's about all. I had bibmbap. I was presented with a bowl of vegetables and meat and a package of rice. I started by putting some of the rice in the bowl and then picking up a few veggies. The flight attendant, who was a very cheerful soul, saw me and immediately came over to help. She took my spoon and put all of the rice in the bowl and then spent several minutes carefully mixing the various ingredients to her standards. Only then was I able to eat. Pretty cute. I googled bibimbap up later and found that it literally means 'mixed rice' so I was just doing it totally wrong.

Finding the apartment was a bit of a challenge. My host suggested taking a taxi to the address. I took the train and subway to the nearest train station. Here's a picture of the very futurey train station at Incheon Airport.


I hailed a taxi but after some time talking to online interpreters the driver wasn't sure where the apartment was. There is a volunteer interpretation service called BBB that you can call if you need help with the language-and boy do I need help. 5 ways to say thank you depending on who you are talking to? After much back and forth he was able to deposit me in the vicinity of the apartment without being able to identify the building. I emailed my host Sangwon and he came over and led me to the door and introduced the place. Very comfortable, off the main road on a side street. Here's a shot of the neighborhood.


Sangwon then kindly drove me out of Seoul (no, took me in a car to a place outside of Seoul, not banished me....) to a country inn for dinner. It was a beautiful old building. We sat on the floor and dish after dish kept appearing. Tofu with kimchi, beef with vegetables, half a dozen pickles/treats (one was a somewhat sweet dish of tiny dried fish-surprisingly good), kimchi fried in an egg roll type wrapper, sliced pork with scallions, more kimchi, a rich pork-based soup, and on and on. The dishes kept coming so fast that I only had time for one representative picture-yum.


It was pretty dark so I wasn't able to get a good picture of the inn, but here's one try.


Time to crash.....

Posted by tdeits 18:03 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

A contrast in shopping centers and a Giant Rubber Ducky!

sunny 69 °F

Before I went to bed on Thursday night, I did my usual ritual of getting things recharged. My computer, my phone, my backup phone battery, my wifi router, my camera all need regular attention. About the router - Korea has a similar system to Japan. You rent an unlimited data wifi router that is pocket sized and it provides internet and internet phone everywhere - it's extremely convenient and not too expensive - about $6/day in Korea, a bit more in Japan.

Anyway, I had to use my voltage converter for the first time (Japan runs on 120 v like the US and most places have US-shaped plugs). Plugged it in and pow! the distinctive odor of deliciously smoked circuits. It looked like it had blown out both my voltage converter and my computer power supply (which wasn't plugged into the computer at the time - clever me).

So my first order of business was to find replacements. I googled electronics stores and found out about the Electronics Market - an entire district in Seoul devoted to that kind of stuff. So it sounded like a piece of cake. Off I went, and got on the train in the wrong direction. This turned out to be a good thing because I got off a station adjacent to something called Lotte World Mall. I decided to return after taking care of business. It was about 45 minutes by train and foot to the market. It is a huge hodgepodge of stores .


There are hundreds of small stores, some specializing in things like home security, cabling, LED lighting etc. and a whole lot of stores that all seem to sell iphone covers. Here's a look at one of the indoor corridors and one outside street. These capture less than 10% of the extent of this crazy place.



Add to that dozens of deivery carts, bikes, motorycles, vans and trucks shuffling boxes in at out at breakneck speed, and it's a pretty entertaining place. Unfortunately, not a place where I could begin to figure out who had what I needed. Finally I stumbled upon a computer store that was several stories high and after finding the sales department I worked with a very patient guy and aided by google translate we were able to identify my computer power supply and a converter. To get ahead of the story, the charger was just right but the 'converter' was almost the exact opposite of what I wanted. It performed no transformer function to step down voltage except to two USB ports and was incompatible with Korean outlets - it was designed to allow Koreans overseas to charge their equipment, not the other way around. Fortunately, by juggling my computer's usb ports, I was able to get back in internet road warrior shape later that night.

Headed back flushed with success, I stopped for lunch at a street stand in a small night market (mostly closed during the day). Lunch was mixed tempura of vegetables, sausage, octopus and dumplings with a side dish of two kinds of tofu in a spicy red pepper sauce. Everything was tasty - the sausage was a type of Korean blood sausage called sundae - be warned if you hanker for hot fudge in Korea! Six bucks.


Walked off the meal by retracing my steps to Lotte World Mall.

Talk about the alpha and omega of shopping experiences! The mall opened about a week ago and it is astonishing. Here is the atrium of the 7 floor section devoted entirely to high-end and very high-end everything.


A shot of the cosmetics department


and one of the atrium from the other direction.


And this is only about one third of the place. There is a separate 7 floor section that is much bigger and caters to a wider audience. There is an amazing video display in the atrium of this part that consists of a dozen independent giant led screens that are raised and lowered up and down the atrium and show a coordinated picture across them all as they move. I have some video, but not the patience to convert/trim/upload at the moment. Footage will be available upon return for the price of a beer.... Speaking of which, there is a nascent craft beer industry in both Japan and Korea - I saw craft beer bars in both places, though they tend to only serve one beer of a given basic style. Still, it's a start.

But enough shopping - what about the Giant Rubber Ducky!?!

Wait no longer-


Yes, it is that big! This is the Rubber Duck Project which is touring this critter around the world.


There are hundreds of people taking selfies and other-people-ies and just sitting and admiring the spectacle.


I actually was a bit hungry on the way home and I saw a restaurant near my apartment specializing in pork hocks. sounded interesting, so in I went. Ordered by pointing at random at a menu on the wall in Korean figuring it probably would contain pork hock. And did it!


I ate and ate (some of the condiments include raw hot peppers and raw garlic as well as what I think was raw pork liver in hot peppers-yikes. When I was slowing down, the waiter brought over two diposable plastic gloves - huh? The folks at the next table let me know that protocol was to put on the gloves and then pick up the giant bone and gnaw on it to your heart's content. I then faced a cultural question; is there a doggy bag tradition in Korea? Googling wasn't much help (!) but I did see what appeared to be styrofoam containers near the pork cutting area in the window of the restaurant so with brilliant gesturing I was able to get the staff to box the remainder which will be breakfast for days to come. I probably walked out with 1 1/2 pounds of leftover pork!

In a food-induced coma, I fell into bed.

Posted by tdeits 18:55 Archived in South Korea Tagged shopping seoul electronics Comments (0)

Seoul national museum

semi-overcast 66 °F

I took it easy on Saturday, blogging in the morning and then heading to the Seoul National Museum. This is an entirely new facility opened in 2010 that is monumental in size, clad inside and out in marble, and relatively uncrowded with artifacts compared to the old museum which I had a chance to see about 15 years ago.



There were some very fine pieces, of course - here are some random items I liked. This is a centerpiece of the museum, a 14th century buddhist monument.


On a much smaller scale, here's a charming detail from an 18th century biographical scroll.


Another detail from a 17th century ink drawing - the artist is famous for his oxen


and who can resist a fierce lion?


This 13th century celadon vase is very similar to the vases I saw in the Tokyo Craft museum


and here is its ancestor (?) some 6000 years old


An enjoyable day, but I do kind of miss the older museum crowded with artifacts.


Grabbed a dinner of raw beef bulgolgi at the Seoul train station - it cooks as you mix it in the very hot cast iron pot.


Finally I swung by Lotte Mall again. I don't think I mentioned that the nucleus of the Lotte region of Seoul is the Disney-style amusement park. It also contains a lake and huge hotel and now a giant office building under construction (around the clock, I think - this was taken at 10 PM on a Saturday).


Another very good day in Seoul.

Posted by tdeits 18:40 Archived in South Korea Tagged food seoul lotte musems Comments (0)

Changdeokgung palace and bindaetteok at kwangjang market

overcast 64 °F

Took it easy in the AM blogging and watching the World Series game (yay Giants!) then headed to Changdeokgung palace. It's time for colors to turn here and so I wandered around getting pics of the building and the foliage, practicing with my camera, which I'm still learning to use Unfortunately it was overcast which flattened the scenes somewhat but who can complain after the great weather so far? Here, without further commentary, are some scenes from the palace.


I had no plans for the evening so I googled the area and found the kwangjang market was an interesting spot. I wasn't expecting much, as it was Sunday night and most of the stores (largely specializing in linens and cloth) were closed that day, but thought there might be a few restaurants open. It turned out to be a quite lively place.


A couple of cool food items - some kind of presentation confectionery?


Nicely displayed fish.


The market is well known for its bindaetteok, a mung-bean paste based pancake - here's one vendor grinding mung beans.


I drifted to the back of the market and ran into this friendly vendor so sat down to eat.


She offered three types of bindaetteok - with scallions, with kimchi and with peppers. I chose the scallion version and some rice wine.


I ended up in a pretty sketchy conversation with a couple of other guys who were sitting at adjacent stools. We had a good time trying to communicate and the guy next to me really took a shine to me. About halfway through the meal he got a small plate and went to the other diners at the table and convinced each of them to give me part of their meals and added some from his plate. So I got to sample all the flavors as well as another thicker version. One of those really nice memories that seem to come if you wander enough and keep an open mind.

I was stuffed after the meal and wine so I paid my bill ($6!) and said warm farewell to my fellow diners.

Posted by tdeits 16:56 Archived in South Korea Tagged food market palace seoul Comments (0)

Traditional Korea

sunny 63 °F

I decided to head out to the Korean Folk Village, a combination outdoor museum and small amusement park on the outskirts of Seoul. Turned out to be a pretty good decision. There were, as might be expected, hordes of kids on field trips and most of them were very young - 1st grade and below? They all carried identical backpacks and were cute as bugs, but I was reluctant to take any pictures. There was plenty more to see, though.

For starters, there are dozens of traditional buildings from farmhouses to provincial offices. Koreans are proud of their ancient adoption of the ondol, or in-floor heating systems that are widespread across Korea. Pretty tricky to arrange as it requires a wood fire be maintained under a wooden house to transmit heat without causing a fire! Another interesting innovation is the green roof, which I saw in the countryside on my last trip to Korea. Rural dwellings frequently grow squash on the roof - lots of sun up there and some protection from pests. Here's an example a bit past its prime.


Lots of cultural information as well. They staged a traditional Korean wedding. I liked the part where each party is served a cup of tea. They take a sip and then the cups are exchanged and another sip taken. Pretty familiar from Western weddings and an interesting convergence. Rather nicer than smashing pieces of cake into each other's mouths!


A few of my other favorite Korean customs on display.

Ancestor poles that clearly harken to Pacific Northwest and Northern Japanese totems.


The tradition is to stay up all night on New Year's Eve. If you fall asleep, your eyebrows will turn white. Here's mom pranking her kid.


My favorite is this one. When in labor, the wife is given a rope attached to her husbands hair and pulls it to share the pain of labor.


And of course there was a demonstration of traditional Korean hip-hop


Had another traditional Korean dish for lunch


The square brown stuff is dotorimuk, which is a jelly made from acorns. Requires lots of washing to remove the bitter/toxic alkaloids from the acorns and the result is a very mildly woody/bitter product. It was traditionally eaten in times of hunger, but is now part of regular Korean cuisine.

But apart from the culture and food and cute kids, it was just a beautiful day so here are a few photos of the scenery.





Plan to go out of town tomorrow and see if I can top these photos!

Posted by tdeits 18:25 Archived in South Korea Tagged buildings food culture scenery seoul Comments (0)

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