Thursday, August 6, 2009

Namdaemun and Shinsagae

Me with my "T Money" need that to ride the subway

Enjoying Namdaemun...check out that woman with all those trays on her head.


Food vendors...Namdaemun

The restaurant at Namdaemun...awesome, awesome food.

Big bowl of spicy kimchi. Kimchi is eaten at every meal...even breakfast. I have grown to love the stuff. mixed with rice and then rolled up in an a tortilla kind of...I ate almost the whole thing it was sooo good. Pretty too!

This is for you Scott..."Porky Children's Wear"...lost in translation maybe?!?

Dried fish for sale...

Shinsegae. Garden Level.

Shinsegae. Our personal portrait. Hard to ask someone to take your picture and explain it to them when you don't speak the same language.

Enjoying a Starbucks on the Garden Level, Shinsegae

Enjoying our feast...korean style

Just for you, Nick...a steaming bowl of bulgogi starting to cook up

Thursday. 2009. 8. 6
I've been here for 4 days now...and I still can't seem to get the hang of this time zone. I was up at 4:45am...hmmm...still dark outside. I got in some good knitting time. I guess I might as well do some of that since I probably won't be picking up a pair of knitting needles anytime soon once I get home again. Lily's little sweater is done and I am very pleased. Now time to start a matching on for Ella. I'm turning into "that mom"...the ones who wants to dress her kids alike...when did this happen?!

As I am typing this, I'm looking out our window. Seoul is such an amazing city. It's huge...the 3rd largest and most poplulated city in the world if I remember right. There are hills off in the distance, a foggy haze covering them making it hard to make out much more than their shapes. With the amount of humidity here, there's always a light haze in the air. There are high-rizes everywhere. Buildings upon buildings, they almost seem like they grow out of each other, squished so close together. There are so many people and not enough land, so the buildings just go up and up and up. Oodles of tall buildings reaching towards the sky. Every direction I look there are groupings of them stretching out across the horizon. As my eye brings me closer, I notice one of my favorite places to lose myself in. Just across the street there is a rooftop garden. The top of the building has a beautifully manicured oriental tree garden. There are spots to sit and space to walk around and take in the landscape of the city. Little bushes trimmed to perfection, trees sculpted into delicate balls and tall oval shapes. I love looking out on this garden and I love watching the people who come up here for their breaks. Although I don't know what they are saying, it's fun to watch them interact with each other.

Today we went to's one of my personnel favorites in this city. It's a giant open-air market. There is hustle and bustle everywhere, this place never sleeps. Oh the vendors may go home after a hard day's work, but new vendors come in to replace their spots, new ones with different things to sell or more food to cook up. There is an energy in Namdaemun...a real feel of the culture. There are 6 different gates which are all main entrances. You select which one you want based on what you are there to buy. Of course all of them run together and you find yourself in a whole new section in the blink of an eye. Your choices include childrens wear alley, mens wear alley, ladies clothing alley, beddings alley, climbing wear alley (I know...this one is a brain stumper...a whole "alley" just for this?!?), watches alley, alley for appliances, camera and eyesglasses alley, stationary alley, tourism shopping alley, boiled fish alley, noodles alley, and restaurant row. It's can find pretty much anything you could ever want to buy. Bras...yep. Shoes...everywhere. Luggage...oodles of it. Dishes, chopsticks, and hot stone bowls...or course. Rolls and rolls of paper, yarn, gift bags and fabric...yes, yes, and yes. Stinky fish sitting out in the hot sun in 85 degree weather and you wonder if you eat it if you will die from food poisoning...uh huh. It's huge, it's loud, it's alive...and I love it.

In between watch alley and the main drag off Gate 2, just off of restaurant row, there is a place where you can exchange your money for more won, the korean currency. Two women were there doing the money exchanging. They were a little older, sitting under umbrellas, with two giant purses in their laps and a calculater in their hand. Thought I was going to say something about a "bank", didn't you?! Next to them was a man who doesn't even have a stall, doesn't even need one. He took out a plastic tablecloth, spread it out onto the pavement in the middle of the walk area, and dumped out bunches and bunches of wallets. Not nicely arranged as he doesn't have time. People are clammering about. It must have been a sale of sorts as people got down on their knees and started sorting through them. I wish I knew the korean language...I would have loved to have know exactly what the excitement was about. For lunch today we stopped into one of the many restaurants on "restaurant row". These places are all side by side with plastic replicas of the food sitting outside for passer-byers to see. We chose the first one as it looked the cleanest. It was a buzz of people and food orders being shouted from acorss the room. Jason had bibimbop and I chose mandu. It was incredible. Wow...awesome food. It reminded us of our last trip when we were there with our good friends. We sure miss them. One of my favorite things to point out to Jason was the hot, bubbling bowls of steaming bugs. Yes, bugs. Big bugs. He kept trying to say they were nuts, but with the legs all curled in, I'm pretty sure they weren't anything Planters would be wanting to pack into a jar. We walked up and down, in and out, and perussed a lot of the shops. It reminds me a little of the state fair...just taken up a few, okay a few hundred, notches. It was so much fun.

Just across the street from Namdaemun is the Shinsegae Shopping Center. It's such a contrast from the market, it's like you have stepped into another world. From bartering, gobs of people, and hundreds of stalls to an upscale department store. Think Macy's and then some. The basement was a feast for the eyes. Cakes, cookies, cupcakes...all works of art...and you pay heavily for those works of art, mind you! Isles of decadent desserts and beautiful breads. A little further down are delis full of amazing looking pastas, rice dishes, sushi, omurices (delicious, I'll explain later), fruits, and vegetables. There are fried items on sticks that beckon you to try them...and no, not the state fair variety...good thing I know that some of them are octopus and squid! I'm not excited about chewing on something that has the texture of rubber bands. There are countertops of many varieties of dried fish...little itty bitty fish to big ones. We took the elevator to the 11th floor...the Garden Court. Upscale restaurants, a starbucks, and an outdoor seating area. There are fountains bubbling up from the floor and beautifully landscaped areas. There are these trees with loads of pink blooms on was picturesque to say the least. We stayed there for a while, letting our weary feet rest, while we watching the children play.

We get quite a few looks here in Korea. I know that we are black hair, we speak another language, and we don't have those beautiful asian features. Let's just say that we stick out in a crowd. Adults will look and then quickly glance away. They don't want to offend you or stare. But kids...well kids are different. Kids are innocent and curious. Babies will stare...stare...and stare some more. I feel like I must be a two-headed monster with sparklers coming out of my head. It's funny as they are trying to process what they have just come face to face with. While we were in the elevator at Shinsegae, a little boy who looked to be around 4 years old kept looking at us, saying something in korean, and pointing. His mom kept trying to shhhh him, but he kept on. Soon everyone was turning around to see what he was talking about. You could see the nervous, embarrased smile on his mom's face...poor woman, I've been in those shoes...if only we knew what he was saying. As we were sitting and enjoying the scenery on the top floor, we looked over to see a little boy around a year and a half watching us intently. We both smiled at him...and he started crying. Hmmmm...poor child...we scared the stuffing out of him. Hmmmm...time to go.

We rode the subway back to SWS, took a little break in our room, and then headed out for some food. We returned to a restaurant just down the road from here, the one where you get to sit on the floor on mats and eat your meal. I just love the korean experience. It's culture that doesn't exist back home. But all lovely culture deserves a blast from the USA too...or so Jason it was off to Baskin Robbins for an ice cream dessert. Sure beats steaming bugs.

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