Wednesday, July 21, 2010
We All Live in a Yellow Submarine!
We Realize We Don't Know a Word of Korean
We arrived in Seoul and immediately felt stripped of our super powers. We couldn't speak the language, we couldn't read the alphabet and we weren't even familiar with the local customs. After stretching many flustered Koreans' English capabilities to the limit, we piled onto a bus and headed for our new home The Yellow Submarine, a hostel in the Hongdae District. Unfortunately when we arrived some sort of miscommunique had led to a double booking, but the manager, Henry, was ridiculously accommodating and arranged for us to stay in a really nice, nearby hotel for the night for free.
After we showered off the grime we'd collected since our last night in Kyoto, all of us headed out together to brave the unknowns of the streets of Seoul. We meandered timidly from sign with squiggles on it to colorful sign with squiggles on it to neon sign with squiggles on it. Eventually our yellow bellied-ness gave way to hungry bellied-ness and we entered a small, family-owned restaurant and smiled politely as friendly Korean greetings were hurled at us like flying ninja stars. We sat without uttering a sound, continuing to smile awkwardly. The owners looked at us expectantly but we didn't make a sound. After our facial muscles were burning from holding the aforementioned awkward smiles, Ava suddenly shouted, "Sam gyoep!" I thought she'd had a small seizure but the owners smiled, cheered, "Sam gyoep!" and ran off to the kitchen. Ava explained that she had had "sam gyoep" with one of her friends. As we discovered as raw meat was thrown onto the stove in the middle of our table, sam gyoep sal is the name of a cheap BBQ item. The pork sizzled up in front of us and we placed the chunks of meat into lettuce and mint leaves and added kimchi, chili paste, oil, and assorted vegetables to our lettuce tacos. It was delicious!
New Meaning to Bubblegum Pop
Our first day in Seoul we bummed around the hostel because it was pouring rain. The AC, Wifi, and free coffee made it especially hard to leave. But by dinnertime we had headed out to see Hong Dae, which is a trendy part of Seoul that, once dusk hits, is filled with 20-somethings in ridiculous fashion get-ups. After people-watching in Hong Dae, Shao Min poignantly noted, "Everyone looks so Korean!"
We went out for more BBQ with a fellow Minnesotan who was also staying in the Yellow Submarine, Vanessa. Vanessa was becoming a sort of celebrity foreigner because she is obsessed with Korean boybanders and shows up to their events for signatures and hugs. She stands out from the usual screaming Korean fangirls because she is white, 6 foot 5 and has bubblegum pink hair. On our post-BBQ stroll around Hong Dae we ran into a camera crew filming a boybander getting mobbed by fans. Vanessa didn't miss her chance for an autograph, even if she wasn't totally sure which Korean boybander she was confessing her undying love to.
The Swedish Excursion in which I Pray for a Korean Girl's Future
The next day Shao Min, Ava and I headed to a Korean palace with a guy from Sweden who was also staying in our hostel. We realized later that we never caught his name. My problem with names continued because in the heat it was hard to keep track of which king had built which building for which concubine which in turn upset which queen.
The highlight of that excursion for me was really the discovery of pineapple flavored Fanta, which is exquisite. The highlight for Shao Min was spelunking through the palace's ancient sewer system.
After the palace, we took the subway with our nameless Swede to the City Plaza to enjoy the free 7:30 show which oddly enough had two parts: African drumming from the Côte d'Ivoire and martial arts demonstrations (Karate from Japan, Kungfu from China and Tae Kwon Do from Korea).
There was a huge discrepancy in the talent of the martial arts groups. The Japanese and Chinese groups were not up to snuff with the Korean Tae Kwon Do group. Not only were the Koreans amazing but they also turned the fights into a Korean drama. Black ninjas stole away the guy with the yellow robe's girlfriend so he and his three buddies band together to fight the black ninjas. But at the end one black ninja beats them all up. But whaaaaaaaat?!?!?! It's the girlfriend! She has Stockholm Syndrome and after killing these four guys, she breaks down and cries in despair. The end.
After that, the Tae Kwon Do demonstration was fully K-Popped as it became kids dancing to pop songs in school uniforms. That was followed up by a very disturbing dance routine by a 5-year-old who was channeling Britney Spears in "Hit Me Baby, One More Time." While watching the performance I silently prayed for her to turn out better and less misguided than Britney Spears but I knew the odds were already stacked against her and that the Korean equivalent of K-Fed was likely looming in her not-too-distant future.
We Are Trapped in the Yellow Submarine
Friday marked our last free day before our triple header for the weekend. Unfortunately the rain and freedom made us only too happy to bum around the comfortable hostel with only two trips out to eat barbecue. But the next day, Saturday, our adventures with monks would begin!