Friday, July 23, 2010

Korea Day 2: Artbox, Seoul Tower, and a Bowl Full of Sea Creatures

We started out the day with a sort of walking tour of the city.  Perhaps that sounds ridiculous because Seoul is such a huge city that you couldn't possibly walk around the entire thing.  Well, by the end of the day it felt like we had trekked every blog in the damn town, let me tell you.  We started at the metro where five Americans of varying levels of cluelessness were immediately assisted by some official subway worker in uniform who handed us subway maps, saying "Thank you!" very enthusiastically and wanting to help Brandon purchase our subway cards.  Then David was greeted by some random subway-goer who wanted to know if he was French, seemed delighted to hear he was American, welcomed us to Seoul and asked how we liked it, and then asked David if he was Christian (David has a way of attracting evangelists--he must look like a lost soul.  A lost French soul.). 

In a deft combination of metro rides and walking endless blocks, we toured the "machine parts district"--tiny storefront after tiny storefront of places selling bits of pipes, small motors, tools, other hardware, and (somewhat inexplicably) some stores full of nothing but fire extinguishers.  Big-box stores like Home Depot don't exist here, so these individual sellers evidently find the niche markets they need to stay in business.

We came out near city hall, scoped out the American Embassy (from the outside only), and then headed to a cute little shopping and restaurant area nearby.  I fell in love with a stationary and school supply kind of store called "Artbox" that also sells sparkly headbands, key chains, pencil cases, tote bags, and lots of little notebooks.  Mom browsed with me but the boys were getting impatient (Brandon, much to my annoyance, had no set agenda but was suddenly in a huge hurry whenever Mom or I entered a retail shop).  I snagged a pencil case that says "idea" on it (of course! because my pencil case is full of ideas) and a folder and notebook with little bears and bunnies on them.  Adorable. 

We went to lunch at a place called, appropriately enough, "The Place."  Mom and I had seen the sign advertising Belgian waffles and we both wanted that for lunch (David:  Seriously?  Me: Shuddup.  I like it.).  So that was lunch. 

The Place

After lunch we wandered through Insadong and went to a pagoda park where there were a bunch of old men sitting around.  We looked at a pagoda built in the 1400s that was all protected by a building of glass.  They don't have a lot of old stuff left around here after the bombing during the war, so they are all about protecting (and numbering) their national treasures. 

Mom and Dad in front of a pagoda.  Also a bunch of old guys.

We walked up toward the palace and looked at a big gold statue of budda, then hopped back on the subway to head to the Seoul Tower.

Mom doesn't realize that we are posing for a picture.

Brandon had told us that people might want to talk to us to practice their English.  Sure enough, we were stopped by a couple of university students while we were walking through Insadong and looking at all of the shops catering to tourists by selling Korean stuff.  Brandon had already hooked me up with a jewelry box and pens for Christmas so I didn't feel compelled to buy anything except I sort of wanted to buy this painted duck, but once again Brandon was suddenly in a huge hurry to get to the Seoul Tower, so our shopping time was limited.

On the subway, an adorable little boy who must have been nine or ten hopped up from his seat and approached David, who was standing.  "Hello," he said shyly, "It is nice to meet you!"  David gave him the same greeting and he ran back to sit by his dad, all smiles.  It was very cute and he spoke very well.  I was jealous that he didn't talk to me.  It seems that David's "Coach Duck" fame has preceded him to Korea.

The Seoul Tower was very cool.  We took an elevator from the street level up to a building with a cable car, and then took a cable car up to the base of the tower. From there we took another elevator up to the top of the tower. 

The cable car track up the mountain.

The views of the city were amazing, even though it was a bit of a hazy day (we didn't get rained on though!).  The city was built up so quickly after the war that it honestly isn't very attractive--one high rise building after another--but it is impressive. 

View of the city.

We gazed down at the city and did some people watching.  My favorite family was this beautiful woman wearing a Burberry dress that matched her two-year-old daughter.  That little girl was so absolutely adorable.

Also there were huge Lego Men at Seoul Tower.

We had talked about going to a market after the Seoul Tower, but my jet lag was catching up with me.  As tired as I had been the night before, I had only gotten about four hours of sleep total because I kept waking up and finding myself unable to go back to sleep.  So I suggested we just sit around for a while before we found a restaurant and then called it a night.

Sidenote:  One benefit of Seoul being a very modern city is that while the architecture is rather uninspired, there are nice, clean public restrooms everywhere.  All of the metro stops, nearly every public building, and of course all of the tourist attractions.  And this was such a good thing because I had to pee like every half hour.  I have heard that this constant peeing thing gets better in the second trimester, but as I remarked to David, Baby Duck is the size of a lemon right now but my bladder appears to be the size of a pea.  So basically I ran for the restrooms everytime we ended up at a specific destination and a few times while we were en route.  All of them were clean and nice, so I am very impressed with Seoul in that regard.

Still at the Seoul Tower, we watched a martial arts show at the base of the tower and posed for pictures with Haechi.  Haechi is an imaginary character (a sort of baby dragon) who helps realize justice and enhances happiness and safety. 

Whoa, Baby Duck.  Ridiculously huge and unnattractive looking.

We looked at all of the locks that couples lock onto the chain link fence at the base of the tower.  (The Seoul Tower is very romantical.)  Then Dad and Brandon got popcorn and we were accosted by hopeful pigeons as we sat on a bench and I dozed off a little leaning on David's shoulder.

Korean Warrior Dude

After we left the tower, everyone agreed with my plan to not head to the market since I was barely clinging to consciousness.  We went to Hongdae which is near the university.  We stumbled upon a Charlie Brown coffee shop, which delighted my mom.  We were seeking a restaurant for dinner and I had already hit Hungry and Tired and left it far behind so I was well into Cranky and Exhausted. 

Dad and David were cracking themselves up taking pictures of "Ho Bar" - a local franchise that has a total of ten bars in a few blocks radius.  "Ho Bar I" through "Ho Bar X."  Crazy.  Brandon suggested a Ho Bar pub crawl in which we would have to have a drink at each Ho Bar in chronological order but obviously I nixed that idea.  I suggested we go to a Mexican restaurant called Casa Ma Va (Mom:  Mexican in Korea?  Really?  Me:  Shuddup I like it.).  I was overruled so instead we went to a Japanese restaurant where we all hated our food.

Ho Bar II.  Not pictured Ho Bars I, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X

Brandon got chicken tempura, which was mostly breading and very little chicken.  I ordered stir fried noodles, no meat.  They understood that to mean stir fried noodles with two pounds of sea creatures thrown on top.  So it was a noodle fish dish with oysters and chunks of unidentifiable sea creature.  It was gag-o-riffic.  I hate when David orders tutto marie at an Italian restaurant because I just don't really care for noodles and cream sauce and fish all mixed together.  But that was what I got.  Fortunately Mom ended up eating most of my dish because she had ordered vegetable udong, wanting something kind of "bland" for her tummy trouble.  Instead she got cold, spicy noodles that no one wanted to eat.  Dad got beef and rice stir fry but it came with seaweed in it, which was totally gross. David got fried tuna chunks which he said were only ok. 

The beer is good!  A shout-out to our buddy, Max.

Then David asked the waiter for a lemon but the waiter had no idea what he was talking about.  Brandon couldn't come up with the Korean word, so he just said "lemon" with a Korean accent and the waiter seemed to understand (at least he repeated it as though he understood) but evidently they didn't have a lemon.  So David said nevermind.  Fifteen minutes later, the waiter shows back up with a lemon.  We think that he may have run out to the market.  David had only three chunks of tuna left, but made good use of the lemon, squeezing the juice over it.  At the same time, the waiter evidently noticed that I wasn't eating anything (Mom had taken over my bowl full of sea creatures and no one was touching her spicy ulong).  I was tired enough that I didn't even feel hungry anymore and I'd forced myself to eat a few bites of a lettuce salad that came with David's tuna and even a piece of Brandon's chicken (when it comes to a choice between starving and eating chicken, I will eat some chicken).  Anyway, the waiter suddenly arrived at the table with a plate of five breaded shrimp and he placed them in front of me.  Mom hissed, "Now you have to eat that!" as though I was going to rudely push it away.  So I ate a few of the shrimp even though I'm not a huge fan of shrimp because they remind me of crawdads and I'm just not a fan of crawdads although I realize they are haute cuisine in some places.  Brandon and David helped me finish off the shrimp (and we squeezed the remainder of David's lemon over it) so I didn't leave the restaurant hungry although none of us really liked what we ate.  It was an experience and our waiter was so very nice.  Brandon said, "Be sure not to tip him!" and we all cracked up at that in the kind of hysterical laughter that comes from being totally exhausted.

After dinner was a million mile walk back to the subway.  The area we were in was bumping--full of young people and adorable little shops and cafes and restaurants but I was basically staggering around in a stupor.  Even the sight of another Artbox store didn't make me want to browse.  I have never been so jet-lagged and I blame Baby Duck for sucking the energy out of me.

We saw a frozen yogurt place called "The Snow Spoon" that was just like this place I went in St. Louis called "Chill" that I had been telling David about.  So we went in and got a fro-yo but then two blocks later David saw a gelato shop and was suddenly very disappointed in his healthy-tasting frozen yogurt.

Finally made it back to the subway, where I fell asleep on David's shoulder on the ride home.  We got back to the apartment and I was asleep on the sleeping mat by 9:30pm.

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