Sunday, May 2, 2010

burberry rag

hello 5AM once again. they say to recover from jetlag you need a day for every hour you displace...which, given the thirteen hour time difference and my two week stay, might give me just enough time to recover before i have to go back home again. oh well. it means i get to see Seoul at its quietest hour when all the clubbers have gone to bed and the businessmen haven't gotten up yet for their morning commute. Seoul has some very beautiful sunrises, poking between the mountains and the skyscrapers. moments of it remind me of Vancouver, another city nestled in the mountains.

we've been very busy fighting off the jetlag while exploring the city. food! food everywhere tastes so good! even the street meat! sold out of the back of some sketchy guy's van! absolutely delicious! yesterday my dad bought some mandoo (dumpling) and chimpan (dough pastries with red bean paste) and i think the street cred only adds to its deliciousness.

my parents buying ho-dduk from some sketchy guy out of a sketchy van.

yummy street snacks - octopus and squid for sale

this street vendor was really mad that i was taking pictures of him. but first, master the credentials.

yesterday morning we went to Youngnak Presbyterian Church, which was housed in this magnificent old building, and this was pretty much the first time i went to a korean church that actually owned the building it held its services in. often in Canada, Korean churches have to rent beautiful old church buildings from white people, or else buy a converted warehouse (as in the case of Toronto's Youngnak church). the church service offered translation services in English and Japanese, which i thought was pretty interesting, and I should also note that this is the only time in Korea that I ever had a Korean person talk to me in English. it figures. Koreans are really big on the church as a part of their culture, and even bigger on evangelism. i'd love to go into a discussion about this reflecting a fascinating counter-appropriation of western colonial influences on Korean indigenous culture, but i suspect a travel blog isn't the best venue for re-hashing my social science undergrad education.

young nak presbyterian church

i am not kidding you. it's a Korean Mother Mary and Child

after the service we went to Myeongdong (i haven't the faintest clue how to spell this in English) which was an exciting shopping and eating district. my father had planned to just pass through this area, but of course when you're traveling with three women, you can't just "pass through" a shopping area. i have seen so many wonderful t-shirts that just beg to be put on the Engrish website; it's almost overwhelming.

Korea's use of engrish is both fascinating and poetic.

i really don't understand why they love to use random english words here. is it a trendy thing, like the way in North America if we want to sound sophisticated, we slip in French phrases we don't understand ("She has that sort of je ne sais quoi about her, you know?" "Your mom just gave me a deja vu."). Also interesting is the korean phonetic spelling of english words. i don't know how many times i painstakingly read out the korean characters on a sign ("Eh-li-beh-tuh" or "Su-tu-ra-beh-ree Men-go") only realize they are actually english words ("Elevator" or "Strawberry Mango").

most fascinating, of course, is the Korean love of designer labels. So many grown men carrying Louis Vuitton handbags. i'm sure there are a lot of knock-offs (like, i'm sure the street vendor outside my hotel is not selling real Chanel earrings) but i'm sure a lot of them are the real thing, because Koreans really love that stuff here and if the rest of them are anything like my cousin, they can tell if its genuine Coach at a glance. When I passed by an optician's shop yesterday, i definitely saw a Burberry rag that was used to wipe glasses. BURBERRY RAG.

...and yet despite this love of ridiculously expensive brands, it's amazing how cheap a lot of other things are. like socks. really cute socks, all for a buck a pair. i am pretty sure i'm going to fill up my suitcase with only socks as souvenirs when i come back.

to balance out our hyper-consumerist morning, we spent the afternoon ascending Namsan, the mountain providing a startling retreat into nature, smack dab in the middle of the city. it looked like everyone else in Seoul had the same idea - the paths were pretty crowded full of families and children climbing over perilous steep steps that just screamed TORT. still, it was an amazing view at the top, allowing us to see just how far the city spans, the cityline framed by the pretty tree blossoms that cause me such woeful fits of allergies. also, intense moments of acrophobia. Bukhansan is going to be even more interesting when we get to that.
for dinner, we grabbed some bibimbap and kimbap at the Hyundai department store in Sinchon. yeah, i didn't know that Hyundai had a department store either, but if it's going to be anywhere it makes sense that it would be in Seoul. my mission for today is to find some noodle bowls that don't contain octopus. Koreans like to to a lot of weird things to a normal bowl of spaghetti.*

*yes, i know that "normal bowl of spaghetti" isn't historically correct since asians invented pasta first and Marco Polo only stole it from us to bring back to Italy, so really, the "normal bowl of spaghetti" is what you find in Asia, not East Side Mario, but still, it doesn't change the fact that i'd love to have a good bowl of noodles that don't contain anchovy eyes or octupii...

view from partway up the Namsan mountain