Seoul travel

I was going to name this post, “Springtime for Kim Jung Il” but was worried that The Producer’s reference would be lost on most of my readers but I had to throw it in there because I like to think of myself as wildly clever. Instead of a play by play account of our time there, I am just going to list some of the highlights. Also, the photos included here are just a brief insight to what we saw. I will have a more detailed album up on my facebook page.

Best food in Korea, in three parts:

How could I not start with food? I could travel the world by through its various cuisine and I envy Andrew Zimmern that he actually gets paid to do so. Korean food is pretty much awesome and, aside from some sort of gray crab paste concoction, I enjoyed eating everything. In fact, I pretty much ate to capacity every single day in order to try as much as I could.

Traditional Korean: We had Korean BBQ which is basically meat cooked over coals in the center of your table and lots of kimchi. We ate some delicious soups, my favorite being a spicy kimchi soup. We also tried a dish called bibimbap, which is a rice dish served in an incredibly hot bowl that actually continues to cook your food after it is served. My favorite traditional restaurant was a place that served a seven course meal all revolving around duck, smoked duck, grilled duck, duck corn cakes that looked like hushpuppies. Then for the dessert they brought out a whole pumpkin stuffed with rice, nuts and raisins. Best part of the meal was sharing it with my brother and my beautiful sister in law and a few of their friends!

Eating duck on our last night

Street food: Street food deserves its own separate mention, for sure. We went to several markets and walked around eating from numerous stands. Steamed mondu (like a wonton), fished shaped cakes filled with red bean curd, another fried pocket filled with vegetables and noodles, roasted chestnuts, rice cakes, waffles with cream and honey. My favorite was hotaek, a pancake like sweet that is filled with a cinnamon sugar mixture and fried. I even bought a few hotaek mixes at the grocery store so I can make them from the comfort of my own kitchen. One thing I didn’t try, and was told by a few people that it wasn’t even worth it, were the fried silk worms. They didn’t really look appetizing and my friend Steve said that if we wanted to know how they tasted we should just smell them…..ummm, not so much. It would have to be a desperate situation for that to go down!

Making hotaek in the Suwon market

Other asian food: My brother took us to a traditional Chinese restaurant where they made fresh noodles as you ordered them. It is awesome to watch the exponential increase the noodle maker halves and stretches his noodle compound. We had fresh made sweet and sour pork and I promise you that nothing I have tried in America even comes close to eating fresh sweet and sour with made from scratch sweet sauce! Superb! We also had some Thai food (green curry, coconut soup and the likes), gourmet pizza (including a honey gorgonzola creation), and some pho and that was my favorite. Probably because I haven’t found a really good pho restaurant here so it just tasted that much more delicious.

 

The DMZ

We took an all day tour up to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and some other places that are associated with it. Starting with a bus ride and a History Channel movie that gave us he basics of the Korean War, North Korea’s stance on government and the ensuing cold war that is best demarcated by a 150 mile long by 2 mile wide line of barbed wire, fences, and mine fields. We visited Imjingak which is a memorial to the Korean War and to the pain and grief it has caused the nation. One of the most impacting relics there is a rusted out train engine littered with bullet holes. It was the last train to cross from the north to the south as the rail line was destroyed by bombs during the war.

After leaving Imjingak things began to feel more serious to me. We crossed through a few checkpoints which were heavily guarded by soldiers and the once busy traffic slowly became a few cars or tour buses on the road. Our next stop was to Tunnel #3. A tunnel running from North to South Korea, obviously built for infiltrating the south, but held by the North Koreans to have been on old mining tunnel (the evidence of this is less than convincing). We hiked all the way down and then up to the blockade that had been placed there by South Korea. We were told that about 20 of these tunnels had been discovered and blocked but that there is believed to be many more.

There we also saw the memorial statue that symbolizes the reunification that is actually desired by both the North and the South. The only problem with this is that the North only wants to reunite under its communist terms and that doesn’t sit too well with the South.

Next we traveled to Dora Observatory and got a panoramic view of the DMZ and the two cities, Tae Sung Dong (Freedom City) and Kijong-dong (also called propoganda city because no North Koreans actually live or work there). Last we actually entered into the Joint Security Area inside the DMZ, and after a briefing by US soldiers and signing a waiver basically saying we won’t sue the government if injured in a war zone, we were taken to see where the North and South meet to discuss politics. Inside one of the buildings we were able to cross into North Korea, a very unsettling feeling to say the least! I much prefer the free side of that line!

Seoul:

We spent a whole day in Seoul, riding public transportation into the city. That in itself was an experience! Each stop we made more and more people crammed into the train, at one point pressing us into the door on the opposite side. There are an incredible amount of people in Seoul, I believe about 20 million, and the whole country, which is about the size of Illinois, contains about 60 million people.  We met my friend from college, Steve, in the morning at Gyeongbokgung Palace and walked all around the grounds. The palace belonged to the Emperor but when the city fell at one point the Emperor fled. The people were so mad they destroyed the whole palace so everything there has been rebuilt.

Next we went to a market district called Insadong where we bought a few trinket souvenirs, then to Seoul Tower. From high on the hill we could look out at all the city and the surrounding city, the city really doesn’t seem to have an end. Up at the top you could also purchase a padlock (or bring your own), write a love note on it and hook it to the fence. The whole fence was covered in padlocks proclaiming people’s love for each other. They called it Locks of Love, not to be mistaken with the American organization where one donates cut hair to make wigs!

Best Korean Experience: The JimJilBang

The JimJilBang, or the bath house, was my favorite thing that we did. Men and women are separated and you strip down to relax in a variety of hot tubs, cool tubs, and saunas. People will spend all day there! Lounging the communal area, watching tv or taking naps. I wasn’t sure quite how to navigate this place but I put on the bravest face I could muster being completely naked where no one spoke English and having to watch those around me to get a feel for what I should do (which was very awkward, in and of itself!). Calling it a bath house is not a misnomer, either, people really come there to get clean, really, really clean. Most of the women were in a corner of the large room at individual seated showers in front of mirrors scrubbing every inch of their skin. I chose to pay for this luxurious scrub down (only about $15) where I laid on the table and a middle age woman in a black bra and underwear started sloughing my skin with what felt like a scotch-brite pad. The experience wasn’t painful, but was for sure intense at times. Now, I bathe regularly….okay, maybe not so regularly since I became a mom, but on this trip I had no kids so I was bathing quite regularly….and I scrub myself in the shower but the dry skin that was coming off my skin was more than disturbing. I heard the Koreans believe that Americans are dirty and now I know why, what was coming off my skin I would have only believed could come off a pioneer crossing the Oregon Trail after months without a decent bath if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. I have since bought my own scotch-brite quality pair of gloves to keep in my shower because the way my skin felt after all that exfoliation was amazing.

Best thing I will only see in Korea: This Photo!

Shout out to all my breastfeeding mommas! This was the photo on the front cover of a lullaby cd right in the grocery store. You would never see this in America. How obscene, a baby eating! Koreans love breastfeeding. Two women, actually asked me if I breastfed my own babies and one wondered how I could even be away from my youngest (who is almost 18 months) because I should still be breastfeeding him.  I had to put this in here because it was so impactful to see a culture that embraces the most natural way to feed your child, of which I am also a huge proponent.

The best, best part of our trip:

With all we saw and did in our too short time the best, best part was spending time with family. I love any opportunity to get to hang out with my brother and know him more and the same is to be said of his wife who I feel is my long-lost sister that my brother finally found and made officially in some capacity. We love you , Cam and Ada , and can’t wait until we all get to be closer some day! Also, just to have some one on one time with my husband was more amazing than even I could have imagined. What a great reminder that we actually like to hang out with each other and can have fun together when we aren’t so occupied with keeping our children from running off to pee in corner or be snatched by a stranger, or dealing with sleep deprivation that could break even the most hardened criminal. I always tell my husband that if we can make it through raising small children then we can make it through anything. So thankful for the opportunity to take this trip with my husband! And it wouldn’t have even been possible with out the mad babysitting skills of my dad who had our boys for the whole week. He did such a great job they didn’t even miss us!

And that’s it. The briefest account of a trip overseas you might possibly ever read.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Kindy on 15 March 12 at 10:03 pm

    I laughed, I cried – so fun to read about and see pics from your trip! And the Cubbies snack you brought back was yummy! 🙂

    Reply

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