Suitcase and World: Seoul With Laura.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Seoul With Laura.

Laura in Myeongdong.

Back in the apartment, I discovered that Laura had left me a voice message. This time, it was with a local phone number. I called the number and she answered the phone! We were on for getting together and she would call me when she arrived at the apartment. I waited until I got her call to tell me she was downstairs. I quickly got my stuff together and headed down. I walked out of the building and did not see her. I walked up the block a bit and did not see her. I walked down the block and then around the corner and spotted her. She was standing in front of the building that Google Maps had incorrectly associated with the street address. I had suspected that might be the case which is why I walked down the block and around the corner! Anyway, we were both relieved to finally see each other - after all the difficulties we had had communicating.  We greeted each other with big smiles on our faces and then we hugged each other.

She led me to a van and opened the door. Behind the driver's seat was her brother-in-law. I greeted him in Korean - "ann-yeong-haseyo". By the way, thank you is "kamsa hamnida".

Flashing the V sign, a very Asian thing to do though I don't know why.

2 phones and a GPS.  Seriously? Hopefully, he doesn't need to use them all to take us to where Laura wants to go!

We drove the short distance, through some bad traffic, to reach the Namdaemun area which is known for its market.

The first order of the day was to have some lunch. Laura asked me what I wanted to eat and well, I really don't know Korean food all that well so I replied I would like to just try a few foods. We walked passed a vendor who was selling sundae, the ubiquitous Korean blood sausage which I had wanted to try. I excitedly pointed to it and Laura took note of my enthusiastic response to seeing it.   There was a lot of food on display outside the restaurants.  It all looked delicious.

She just picked small restaurant and we headed inside and the waitress led us to a small table.  The place was packed with locals eating lunch.  It looked promising for a delicious meal.

The place was popular with locals.

Even though the waitress passed two menus to us, Laura already knew what she wanted to order. We barely waited 5 minutes before the first dish arrived - it was Korean rice cakes, tteok-pokki. They are log shaped rice cakes swirled in a mixture of sweet chili paste with some chili flakes mixed in. Very doughy. I think I would like these with a more savory sauce.

Next came the sundae along with several slices of beef liver ...very interesting. There was a bit of salt on the side but I preferred the sundae dipped in the chili paste. Taste wise okay but I think the sundae would be better cooked over a wood grill to give it a nice charred flavor. Boiling it makes it a bit bland tasting.

We also had some chap chae which are sweet potato noodles stir fried with veggies. That was nice tasting. Last was a bowl of Korean ramen noodle soup. That was the best dish for me. The broth was a clam based broth and it was very tasty. I would have been very happy with just that bowl of noodle soup.

Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed by what I ate for lunch but Laura's company more than made up for it!  It was really nice to be able to chat with her and get to know her better.

Laura picked up the tab for lunch despite my objections. We do that in Asia, we have to do the obligatory objection. She has been insisting on treating me all day and I will have to find a way to reciprocate.

The first order after lunch was to find coffee for Laura. She is a die hard addict, admitting to having 5-6 cups of fully caffeinated joe every day! I can barely put down one if I want any hope of being able to sleep.

With her iced coffee in hand, I basically followed Laura around Namdaemun market as she bought small items - washcloth, socks, slippers, etc. The market is basically the typical large gathering of vendors selling everything under the sun that locals need in their daily lives. We also checked out a small mall that sold nothing but women's and children's clothing. It was packed with shoppers.

There were also plenty of food vendors around - selling both ingredients for making a meal as well as prepared food items.  I love wandering local places like this -  it's a great way to see how locals live.

Roasted silk worms.  They looked spicy.  I was tempted to get a few to try. 

A Korean hotdog stand.  Koreans love their hotdogs!

Next, we headed inside Shinsegae Department store which sells some very high end products e.g., Chanel, Gucci, Rolex, etc. These were all out of both our price range. So instead, Laura took me down to the food hall and supermarket in the basement.

Now, we're talking. It was a very high end food hall - reminiscent of ones you find in Paris and Tokyo. Lots of luxury, high end foods for sale.  I was so busy looking around, I really didn't even take that many photos of the place!  There's a food hall with plenty of restaurants and sections selling fresh produce, meats, seafood, as well as bakeries serving up bread, cakes and cookies.  At several of the counters, they had set out samples.  Laura was drawn to the kimchi counter so I got to taste a few different items.  I've not really acquired a fine palate for kimchi.  Sorry.

I was more drawn to the seafood counter.  There were tanks selling pretty much everything that swims as well as freezer sections holding what I would describe as prized selections of dried fish.

In need of a live octopus for tonight's dinner?

In the meat section, which sold mainly beef, there was beef imported from both Australia and the US.  Not cheap US beef.

Of course, the price of the US beef could not outdo the local Hanwoo beef which you can easily differentiate from its imported cousins by the sheer amount of fat in the marbling.

Before we left Shinsegae, Laura treated me to a couple of drinks - a small carton of milk made from black soy beans which I've never had before and a bottle of corn silk tea which I've had many times before as my mother likes to make it.  We sat down and had our drinks.  It was a good opportunity to rest our feet as well.

From Shinsegae, we took a short walk to the heart of the Myeongdong neighborhood, another hugely popular shopping area.  While Namdaemum focused mainly on daily living items and catered to what I would call the working person, Myeongdong was definitely more high end.  I suspect that the place is also very popular with tourists hence all the signs in English.

There are many more department stores, cafes, bars and restaurants here and overall, it's far less chaotic here.  Whereas in Namdaemum, you could got easily get run over by someone with a pushcart, that would not happen here.  The crowd is also much younger and better dressed.  I had no interest in buying anything here as pretty much everything being sold is something I can get at home.  

Laura made a quick trip inside an H&M store, yes....there's an H&M here and why not?  She picked up a t-shirt before leaving the store.

She had to pose by this guy and asked me to take her photo.  Don't know why. 

From the main shopping street, we darted inside Lotte which I know as just a supermarket in the US but in Korea, it's an entire shopping complex.  Like Shinsegae, Lotte also sells high end luxury goods and like Shinsegae, it also has a food hall and supermarket in the basement.  That's where we headed, after another brief moment to sit and rest our feet.  I have to admit that by this time, I was fading fast.  I blamed it on jet lag Surprisingly, Laura was still full of energy and remember, she arrived on exactly the same flights that I had!

The first thing to greet us at the entrance to the supermarket were the giant fruits.   Like the Japanese, the Koreans have an obsession with what they would call the perfect specimen of a fruit.  Typically, they are bought as gifts and no surprise as they are EXPENSIVE!!  Like the watermelon below which costs the equivalent of $35 USD!!

The perfect cantaloupe. It evens with a replacement, metal stem.

A basket of 3 perfect melons for $80 USD!

Some ginormous Asian pears. I had Laura point at them just so you can get an idea of their size - larger than her fist!

I loved this little diorama. I don't think this scene exists anywhere in modern day Korea.

I had to check out the items in the bakery.  Everything looked so delicious but I swear I still had the lingering taste of that cheese bun thing I had for breakfast.  I have a feeling the bakery items look European on the outside but are wholly Korean on the inside.  Kimchi croissant anyone?

The black adzuki bread is definitely a Korean twist.  You would never find anything black like this in a European bakery!

Hmmm.....wonder what a black adzuki baguette tastes like?

The Koreans picked up mochi from the Japanese.  There were some very colorful and unusual varieties are for intended for *every day* consumption.

Like the Japanese, the Koreans have taken mochi design to a whole other level.  These boxes of mochi are intended as gifts and have price tags to match.   According to Laura, these are often presented as wedding gifts.  I thought they were incredibly beautiful.

Koreans also love Spam and we saw it being sold in gift boxes, oddly enough along with bottles of olive oil.  Spam and olive oil.  Who knew that Spam would be considered worthy of being a wedding gift and that it along with olive oil would be a popular gift combo.  Not cheap either.  6 cans of Spam and two bottles of olive oil for about $86 USD!  Apparently, the country is obsessed with Spam and it holds a revered status among luxury products here.  The Korean love of Spam dates back to the 1950s, when U.S. soldiers introduced it on the peninsula during the Korean War.

After we left Lotte, we did a bit more walking around Myeondong.  Laura stopped into a shop to have her Samsung phone checked out.  We are in the land of Samsung!!  .....and LG.  It think pretty much everyone here has either brand.  I've seen a few iPhones around but not all that many.

Laura thought she was having some reception issues but as it turned out, her phone was fine.  She's currently staying with her sister so I told her that perhaps reception at her sister's house is not so good as she's not been having problems in either Namdaemun or Myeondong.

Laura also has a young grand daughter so the last thing we did in Myeongdong was stop into a shop that sold hair accessories.  Lots of pretty barrettes to choose from. :-)

Well before we had arrived into Myeongdong and I was already beyond exhausted. By the time we were ready to leave Lotte, I was more than ready to head back to the apartment and take a nap. Laura wanted to know if I wanted to head to Insadong to walk around and do more shopping and kindly told her no. I knew she was tired as well as we had both been struggling to stifle yawns. She needed to rest and I didn't her to feel obligated to take me around. She's already been so kind and hospitable - I don't want her to feel like I'm taking advantage of her. So, we walked a short distance and then she hailed a taxi to take me back to my apartment and her to her sister's house where she's staying. On the ride back to my place, I thanked her for taking me around and we agree to meet when we both return home in a month's time.  Although I am not a shopper at heart, I really did enjoy the time I spent with Laura wandering about Namdaemun and Myeongdong.  It was a nice way introduction to Korean life and culture.

Back in the apartment, I turned on the air conditioning, set the alarm on my iPad to go off in 2 hours and flopped into bed. I don't remember my head hitting the pillow. I woke up when the alarm went off and then slept for another hour. I woke up feeling much better but still a bit tired. Tonight I should be able to fully catch up on my sleep. I hope. I was still quite full from lunch so I'm munching on some snacks for dinner. I'll have good breakfast tomorrow and then I have plans to head to a restaurant for a Buddhist temple lunch. Should be interesting. In any case, I will be on my own tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing a couple of historic sites and maybe a museum or two. George arrives late tomorrow night and I'm looking forward to spending the rest of my time in Korea with him.

Goodnight from Seoul!