The day began with sleeping in a little bit (Brandon's request). Then we headed out to meet Ju for lunch. She had made reservations but she wouldn't tell Brandon where. She said it was a surprise but to tell us that we were going to have frog legs, frog soup, and frog meat. Then she said really she chose between two places but she picked this restaurant based on everyone's tastes. We had no idea what that meant.
Evidently she knows us well because she selected an amazing buffet restaurant inside a swanky shopping mall.
It was called Muscus, which did not make for a very appealing name, but the food was delicious. Most things were labeled in Korean and English. A few things were only labeled in Korean, which is how I ended up biting into a clove of garlic. There was all kinds of sea food and David was in hog heaven over the crab meat (his very favorite).
We ate a lot.
David's second plate.
My second plate.
David's third plate.
Then Ju insisted on paying for it! Which was totally unnecessary since we already loved her but very sweet of her. She was concerned when she learned that Brandon had taken us to eat san nakji. She felt that he was not being considerate of me, especially since I'm pregnant. She turned to him at the table and exclaimed, "You should care about people!" A mantra that I (of course) kept repeating to him all day.
Ju: You should care about people! Brandon: What?
After lunch Ju suggested that we walk around a nearby park with a lake that led to Lotte World. Keep in mind that this stroll was her idea even though she was wearing these shoes:
The park and lake were lovely and it was funny to walk through a park in middle of Seoul and hear Barbra Streisand and Simon and Garfunkel playing from the outdoor speakers. Seoul doesn't have much greenspace or parks so this was really the first we'd seen. It was cool and shady and breezy by the lake, so it was nice.
Lotte World was out of control. We walked by the outside portion of it and marveled at how adorable it is:
Ju had to leave to go to work (she teaches at a private school that is open from 5pm to 10pm--Korean education is crazy intense). So we told her good-bye and after she left we talked more about how adorable she is and how much we love her.
Then we decided to check out the inside of Lotte World, which has shopping, restaurants, an ice rink, and more amusement park rides. It was crazy.
We watched little kids ice skating--including some taking figure skating and speed skating lessons. Then we decided to sit at a cushy little cafe and have beers and bing su and do some people watching.
I wish that I had been sent here on a fashion assignment for Glamour magazine because I swear that every girl I see is a Glamour "Do." "Do pair a bright patent bag with a black and white outfit." "Do wear a simple sheath with strappy sandals." "Do put a tailored shirt with a ruffled, feminine skirt." The clothes are so adorable, but I guess it doesn't hurt that the girls all have tiny, perfect bodies and look good wearing them.
After we'd rested a little while at the cafe, we headed into the Lotte World department store. The first floor was a regular grocery store, which surprised us. The other nine floors were more typical department store fare--six floors of women's clothing, then men's, children's, sportswear, and the 10th floor was a Duty Free shop with lots of cosmetics and Louis Vuitton bags for sale. We rode the escalator up so I could gawk at all of the beautiful, shiny things but of course we were there with my dad and brother, so there was no real shopping to be done.
From Lotte World's department store, we wandered a few blocks and left the hustle and bustle to enter the gates of a Buddhist monastery. It was a beautiful place--buildings built like the replicas of the ancient ones we've seen, with detailed painting and open walls.
There were people worshiping so we sat for a while and listened to the music and the chanting and smelled the incense. One of the loveliest things about the place were the white paper lanterns that hung everywhere. It gave the place a magical feeling.
A 75-foot tall Buddha statue looked over the entire grounds and we saw lots of ordinary people who came there to worship or pay their respects.
It was a nice and peaceful place to spend a small part of our afternoon--a sort of oasis in the middle of Seoul's crazy energy.
When we left, we headed back toward the subway because we wanted to stop by Brandon's before going to dinner and the Nanta show. As we walked to the subway, we had to go back through another enormous shopping mall--Coex. Its underground passages led us directly to the subway station and there was an ArtBox on the way. ArtBox being my favorite store and also the favorite of many twelve-year-olds who joined me in clamoring for notebooks, glitter pens, and sparkly hair clips. Since it was my birthday, the boys let me do a little shopping and I grabbed a few little gifts for myself.
We had a brief respite at the apartment, then headed out for dinner and Nanta. Dinner was supposed to be at a Mexican place but it was no where to be found. Also we were walking up and down streets that were so steep they could only be compared to San Francisco. We ended up at Kraze Burger (perhaps not my first choice for birthday dinner, but time was short). They had tomato/mozzarella sandwich, so I could not complain. Dinner was quick and then it was a jaunt over to the Nanta theater.
Nanta is a musical cooking performance. It's hard to describe, so I'll quote from the brochure:
"In NANTA, knives and other kitchen utensils are transformed into musical instruments in the hands of the performers. [...] The only and the best enetertaining performance with a high energy, easy-watch experience, infectious rhythm and non-verbal humor that cuts across both age and international barriers. It's NANTA."
Here's the synopsis they offer in the brochure:
"An excellent cook, but the unmany HEAD CHEF, a very sexy, masculine SEXY GUY, and the power, sassy, the only woman cook, HOT SAUCE! The three attractive, characteristic chefs start tehir day. Washing vegetable, carrying meat loafs, setting fire, cooks at NANTA kitchen is about to begin their busy job as always, then the ill-natured manager orders them to prepare 10 wedding ceremony menus, along with his little nephew, in just an hour. Suddenly the kitchen is thrown into turmoil and the cooks become wild as they chop, beat, and stir in an attempt to meet the deadline. The wedding ceremony is at 6 o'clock and it is at hand! Will the NANTA cooks complete the preparation on time?"
We had fantastic seats--David and I were two rows up and I was on the end. Lucky me, when the cast stepped out in the audience to get their first set of volunteers to come up on stage, SEXY GUY headed right for me. Suddenly I found myself up on the stage, eating real potato soup, and wearing a bib and a hat meant to represent traditional Korean wedding gear. That's right--the wedding that they are preparing for in the show suddenly became MY wedding. Me and my Korean groom, who was eating soup on stage next to me.
The whole thing was hysterical--for us, for the audience, and even for the actors, who were working up a ridiculous sweat and were dripping wet but also seemed to be totally enjoying themselves. We laughed and laughed for an hour and half straight. And I got a free picture of myself in wedding gear to thank me for being a good sport. Which was only fair, since even after they'd sent me off stage, they ended up projecting a huge photo of us as "bride and groom" on the back of the stage later in the show. David leaned over and said, "Oh my God, that's you!" Awesome. It's like they knew it was my birthday!
My dad took a few contraband pictures of me up on the stage, so I will try to post those later and let you share in my