Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Korea Day 6: Korean War Monument, 63 Building, LG Twins, and OMG Dinner is Wiggling

Brandon went to work in the morning, so the four of us set out on our own to see the Korean war monument.  My papa fought in the Korean war, so he spent a year in Seoul in 1950(ish).  City looked quite a bit different at that time.

David took charge of directing us on the subway.  The metro system here is actually very easy to get around on.  The biggest hurdle is the recognition of names--the words are still so unfamiliar that it is more difficult to read and remember the names of some of the stops, and it's not always easy to understand when the voice comes over the speaker to announce them.  But after almost a week here, we're beginning to get the hang of it.  We mapped out the quickest route, hiked to the subway station, made a transfer partway through, and found the monument with little trouble.

The first thing you see walking up is this statue called "The Brothers."

It is a depiction of an older brother, who is a South Korean soldier, and a younger brother, who is a North Korean soldier, meeting on the battlefield and embracing instead of fighting.  South Korea so desperately wanted a unified country, for obvious political stability reasons but also I think for an altruistic desire for unity and forgiveness.  The statue stands atop a big dome and the crack that runs across the dome represents the division between North and South and the desire to repair that separation.

Somewhat at odds with this message are the zillions of tanks, trucks, and fighter planes that surround the area.  We took pictures of David on the B-52, which is the plane his grandfather worked on during his long career at Boeing in Wichita, Kansas.

 We also found a tank that actually ran when you deposited 500 won--the gun moved around, the wheels turned, and it made shooting sounds.  I dropped in the coin and once the tank started going, it was like a kid-magnet for all these little guys who were wandering around with their families.  I started a trend because we kept hearing the tank's guns long after my two minutes had run out.

The sun was beating down on us pretty good so after we'd strolled around the grounds and checked out the boat they had on display, we headed inside the museum for some air conditioning.

Air conditioning is not nearly up to American standards, meaning I definitely don't need a sweater when I enter buildings and much of the time I (who am always cold) find myself wishing I had a fan.  Still, it was a relief to be out of the sun.  And this museum had a great Korean war exhibit.  It walked us through all three years of the war and had engaging videos at frequent intervals throughout the display with options to play in Korean, English, Chinese, or Japanese.  The museum was not crowded so we were able to stroll right through and watch all of the videos.

I'd never really learned about the Korean war in school, so most of what I knew was from the guidebooks I'd read about Seoul and Korea.  It was most interesting to think about how the war started in part as a fallout from World War II and the division between the Soviet Union having control of the North and the U.S. being stationed in the South.  It was unreal to think about 10 million people being displaced from Seoul and this huge city being little more than a burned out shell of itself less than sixty years ago.  I also didn't realize that South Korea never signed the peace treaty at the end of the war--the United Nations/U.S. and North Korea and China signed, but South Korea refused because they did not want a compromise that did not result in their country being reunited.  It was amazing to think that they were willing to remain at war rather than continue as a nation divided, although when you think about the tensions that still exist, it kind of seems like South Korea had a pretty good point.

Anyway, we were at the museum a long time (long enough that I had to eat a granola bar so I wouldn't murder anyone) but it was pretty fascinating.  By the time we'd gotten to the armistice agreement of 1953, we were all starving and we decided to head to the 63 Building to see if we could find some lunch.  We'd read a brief blip about it in a tourist brochure, but didn't really know what we were in for (that speaks for the entire Korean vacation, actually).

We weren't really sure what to expect--it's basically a big tall office building with a food court on the first floor, and also an aquarium, an art gallery, and a cafe up on one of the top floors.  It was not that cool.  First of all, we were starving so we ate at the food court immediately.

I ordered bibimbap because it was the first vegetarian entree that I saw.  It's basically just rice and vegetables, which sounded good to me.  It was kinda spicy and it came (of course) with two different kinds of kimchi and also a bean sprout soup that was disgusting.  When I ordered it, I definitely yanked out the guidebook and pointed to the sentence that said, "Take out the meat, please" because I wanted to be sure I didn't some how end up with a plate of pork.

The girl at the counter said, "Egg ok?" and I said sure.

I did not realize the egg would be raw.

I am pretty sure that raw egg is on the list of "Foods for Pregnant People to Avoid."

So I used a spoon to scoop off the raw egg and ate the rest of it because I was starving.

Clockwise from top left, kimchi, black beans (?), kimchi, bean sprout soup, bibimbap with raw egg.  The first kimchi was delish, and the bibimbap was good once I got rid of the egg.
Mom, Dad, and David got burgers and fries.  But so did most of the Koreans who were dining around us.

Korean kids are universally absolutely freaking adorable and so it was fun to sit in the food court and people watch.  If I weren't pregnant, I think I would seriously consider trying to steal someone's cute Korean baby because they are so darling.  Sometimes the older kids will say, "Hello," but none of them have been as brave as the first little boy who came up to David on the train.  My dad watched two little boys play rock-paper-scissors and then one of them came over and said "Hello, where are you from?" to him.  Dad wasn't sure if he was the winner or the loser (I'm thinking probably the loser!).

Anyway, the 63 building has an art gallery on the top floor and an aquarium on the bottom floor, but by the time we finished our late lunch, we needed to head out to meet Brandon, who had taken a half day off work so he could get done early and hang out with us.  We met up with him at the Gangnam subway stop and then we continued onward toward the ballpark.

Brandon decided that he was in the mood for a pre-ballgame snack, so we wandered down some side streets until we found restaurants with large fish tanks in front of them.  Sure enough, one of those fish tanks was full of san nakji, otherwise known as octopus.

David is hungry for crab.
We walked in and were the only people in the restaurant.  The woman working there handed us menus, water glasses, and a carafe of water, and then left.  We weren't sure what to do, but she returned a few moments later with another woman who actually worked at the store next door and evidently spoke English.  But Brandon started talking to her in Korean and even without knowing what they were saying, I was able to translate.

Brandon:  We'd like san nakji.
Store Clerk:  You speak Korean!?
Brandon:  A little.
Store Clerk:  San nakji.  Big or little?
Brandon:  Big.

And then some other stuff.

She bustled outside and returned a moment later with a bowl carrying a live octopus.  We heard some vigorous chopping and maybe one minutes after that, we were looking at this:

Are you feeling hungry or what?
It was a bowl of octopus.  Brandon stirred it around with his chopstick and then it was a bowl of wriggling octopus.  Gross me out.  It looked like grubs or worms or guts or the grossest thing you can imagine in a bowl.  Brandon and David clicked their chopsticks and dug in.  Early on, Brandon picked up a piece that suctioned itself onto the bowl and as he yanked with the chopsticks and it stuck with its tentacle sucker, I started gagging and had to turn away from the table to keep from dry heaving or possibly vomiting.

My parents both tried small pieces but my dad said that was the last time he was eating fish bait.

David and Brandon both seemed to enjoy themselves.

A little soju helps the octopus go down.
Needless to say, I did not sample any of it.

Once they had eaten more of the octopus than I would have thought humanly possible, we headed for the ballgame.  We emerged from the subway station stairs and were immediately accosted by old women selling ballgame treats that could be taken into the park--water, tall boys, and dried squid.

The amount of dried squid was mind-blowing, but I didn't actually see anyone eating it.  Most people were eating box dinners from KFC or Burger King.  I myself picked up a cheese pizza from Dominos.  When in Seoul...  Beers at the ballpark were refreshing cheap compared to St. Louis prices ($3 instead of $8).  We settled into our seats in the outfield along the first base side.  And the game between the LG Twins and the SK Wyverns began.

We'd seen lots of people buying thunder sticks outside, but we were unprepared for the intensity with which the crowd would bang their sticks and shout.

It was a fairly small crowd--lots of empty seats--but what it lacked in size it made up for in intensity.  So much chanting and singing and everyone was organized in their cheering.

Each batter had his own song when he'd come up to the plate, sort of like in the U.S.  But instead of playing a little blip of the song and then the stadium growing quiet for the first pitch, the entire fan base sang along with the song, only the lyrics were changed so that they sang the name of the batter.

For example, the top of the line up batted to "Dancing Queen" but instead of singing "Dancing Queen," they would sing the guy's three syllable name.  So let's pretend that second baseman Park Jong-Ho (Park is the last name, but Koreans say it first) is that batter.  The ENTIRE crowd in unison would sing, "Park Jong-Ho, LG's Park Jong-Ho..." to the tune of Abba's "Dancing Queen" as he walked to plate.  This would continue through the first pitch.  Other songs we recognized for batters later in the line up were "It's A Small World" and "Macho Man."  Random.  And the crowd had special gestures to go with the song so everyone was waving their arms or thunder sticks in unison.  It was almost eerie but pretty awesome.

We had a nice night for the game and we got to see the LG Twins pull out a win, which was exciting.  We made a quick souvenir stop after the game so David could get a bobblehead-esque figurine and then we headed back to the san nakji restuarant to get some jogae gui (shellfish cooked over a fire). 

We walked in and were not the only people in the restaurant anymore.  The waitress who'd been there before was gone, and the store clerk was no longer there.  But our reputation had preceded us because the waitress who was there asked Brandon in Korean if we were back for more san nakji.  He laughed and said, no, jogae gui.

She brought out two steaming bowls of oysters and then hot coals for the fire pit at our table.  The oysters were followed by plate after plate of shellfish.  It was so much food.  My parents are not huge fans of shell fish, and I'd eaten my fill of Domino's pizza, so it was mostly David and Brandon who attacked the jogae gui.  David loves seafood so much that Ju suggested he must have a little Korean blood inside his body.  He seemed intent to prove it as he devoured vast quantities of shellfish, on top of his octopus snack.  I did taste some of the shellfish, but after getting a super chewy scallop, I was pretty much done.

My camera battery died at the game, so I may get some pictures from my dad's camera to post later, but since my dad has probably taken at least 2,000 pictures since we've gotten here (I shit you not), it may take me years to sort through them all to find a couple of our shellfish dinner.  So use your imaginations, but picture every kind of seashell you might collect, and then picture a little Asian woman ripping the living animal out from inside it and throwing it on a grill.

Our waitress was funny because, like the first restaurant we visited, this place is basically a do-it-yourselfer, where you would cook your own food over the hot coals.  But since we were clearly incompetent Westerners, she very patiently cooked everything for us and assisted us with her tongs when our chopstick skills failed.

On our way out, we ran into the store clerk from before, who laughed when she saw us again and asked how we like the octopus.  I liked it better alive and in the tank, but then again, I don't really like my food to wiggle while I'm eating it.

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