Sunday, July 25, 2010

Korea Day 3: Dongnaemun Market, WTF is for lunch, and Buddha's Belly

First thing in the morning, we were headed to the market.  I can't even find the words to begin to describe Dongnaemun Market.  City block after city block of buildings, each building bursting with stalls of individual sellers peddling their wares.  Everything was laid out by districts--we started in the textile district which made Project Runway's Mood look like a dinky Jo-Ann fabric.  This place was out of control.  The clothing district was a favorite, although the stuff was crazy.  Lots of polyester.  And t-shirts with nonsensical and/or just plain hilarious English phrases.  Some of our favorites:  "Jesus Makes Me Dance," "Love is a Wodor Land," and "Lovely Girl With Hairband."  Here are a few pics to tray and capture the madness:

Bookstore.  Nothing in English at this one.

Part of the textile section--displays of authentic Korean garb.

These ladies might be tiny, but they mean business.  They will shove your ass out of the way.

 Mom bought a sweater.  Brandon was an excellent translator.  "How much?  What size?"

Who wants a polyester golf shirt?  We've got oodles.
Looking for a belt?  Variety is the name of the game.  However, it smelled fishy rather than like leather.

So the market was huge and overwhelming but we managed to make a few purchases (a few lucky folks back home just might be getting pairs of socks with Korean words on them!).  Then we decided it was time for lunch.  Brandon wanted to take us to a small vegetarian restaurant he found after wandering through a park.

And by "wandering through a park," he meant "hiking up an incredibly steep hill in 90% humidity with zero breeze and a temperature in the high 80s."

Climbing the mountain.  It was much steeper than it looks here.

Seriously, we're almost there.  Of course, by "almost," I mean "halfway."

 This is how much fun Mom and I are having.  Also, could I look a little more pregnant?

 David decides to show off by getting in an additional workout with the road-side gym equipment located in the park.  

 And this was his response to my request that he "Do something cool!"

Living our love story.  Just like this couple, but without the hat and vest.
We finally made it to the restaurant.  We staggered inside the hole-in-the-wall diner place that didn't even look like a restaurant from the outside.  I'm not sure there was any signage.  We collapsed into two booths and the waiter came over and started talking very rapidly in Korean.  Brandon deciphered that he was saying something about being married or single and indicated that he wanted us to sit in different places.  Brandon kept shaking his head and saying, "Uh, I don't understand."  This caused the waiter to talk louder and more rapidly.  Finally he said "Just joking" in English but apparently that was the only English phrase he knew.

He returned a few minutes later with a steaming bowl of soup (just what we wanted after hiking a mountain in the heat--but evidently there were no menus because we had no opportunity to actually make a selection).  He instructed Brandon to put salt in the soup until it tasted good and then eat it.  He then brought the rest of us steaming bowls of soup and we followed the same instructions.  

David's face says what we were all thinking:  "WTF is for lunch?"

Evidently this was a very different lunch than what Brandon had the last time he was there (not to mention a different server--previously he'd been served by the very friendly owner who helped him with everything) and no sooner had I spooned up my first bite of soup when I saw there was meat in it.  David tasted it.  Pork.

Good thing I like kimchi because this soup would make me break out in hives!

Soooo...  no soup for me.  And there really wasn't any communicating with this dude.  The soup was quickly followed by kimchi and rice, so I ate that, although not that much of it because the kimchi was so spicy that I wanted water but we were not offered drinks.  Evidently it is fairly typical to not have drinks until after the meal.  Sure enough, when the meal was over the cook/server brought us dixie cups and poured home-brewed ginseng tea in it.

Ginseng tea brewing in the restaurant.

Once lunch was over, I waited outside while Brandon paid the tab.  5,000 won.  Roughly the equivalent of $5.  Not $5 each.  $5 total.  Lunch cost a dollar per person.  How does this place stay in business?

We left and I said, "Well that was fun.  Now I need to get some lunch."  I jokingly told Brandon that I needed a tomato mozzarella sandwich and he said that there's no way I'd be finding that.  So I bought a nectarine from a sketchy looking grocery store and ate that.  Then we wandered through the theater district and near the metro stop came across a coffee shop chain:  Paris Croissant.  Not only did they actually have a tomato mozzarella sandwich (nevermind that it cost more than lunch for all five of us at the other place) but they also had an amazing treat:  bing su.  Shaved ice with fruit in it.  Like a Hawaiian Icee only made with fruit and juice instead of chemical flavors.  Delicious and my new favorite treat.

Mom and Dad attack the fruit bing su.
After a refreshment, it was time to hop back on the metro.  And do a little window shopping on the way. 
Brandon and David walk toward the metro.  Yes, Brandon is representing Greasewood with his t-shirt.  

Then we moved on to another market - Nomdaemun.  It was like Domdaemun in that it was crowded and full of people and stuff for sale, but it was a different variety of merchandise.  Shops were outside and there were lots of knock-off bags and pop star memorabilia for sale.  I told Brandon that if his plan was to make us hike up a mountain so we were too tired to shop, then it worked.
One photograph can't capture the craziness of streets and streets full of vendors and shoppers.

There were also stands with food for sale.

Also there are plenty of pig parts available.  Note the pig head located directly under the fan.

We wandered through the market, narrowly avoiding a few scooters and even cars brave enough to drive down the narrow lanes.  Then we decided to head to Itaewon to have a drink and dinner.  Itaewon is the foreigner district in Seoul--there are people from all over there and most every one speaks very good English.  It's not exactly the "Korean experience" but we climbed up to a rooftop bar (because we hadn't climbed nearly enough stairs or inclines that afternoon) and it was nice to be able to order nachos at a bar.

We also met up with a couple of Brandon's friends -- Kate and Zoz -- who were visiting Seoul from Daejeon (another city about an hour away by bullet train).  They came up and met us fora  beer and then we headed to a Thai restaurant called Buddha's Belly.  And it was a hit, particularly compared to our previous dining experiences.  We sat on cushy red velvet couches and enjoyed the swanky atmosphere.  The food was delicious, the servers refilled our water glasses, and my own Buddha belly was happy by the end of the night.
Love my dinner!  Pictured in the back: Zoz and Kate.

Needless to say, it was another long ass day.  We staggered back to the apartment after dinner and crashed by 10pm.  More Korean fun to follow...

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