I went up to Seoul to visit my aunt. Korea has a super fast train system based on the French TGV trains, and the trip took me less than 2 hours. Going through the countryside of Korea, I realized that modernization has come at a price. Huge housing blocks have sprouted up like weeds in the cities, clashing with the gently rolling mountains. It makes my eyes ache, and I wish for a second that some care was given to the aesthetics, something I’m used to seeing in European cities that have strict regulations on housing codes and an eye for preservation. You certainly don’t come to Korea to find beautiful city planning.
At the Seoul Station I have a taxi driver from hell. He is one grumpy ah-jo-shee! My aunt has given me instructions on how to get to her apartment, but lacking an actual address I feel at a loss. I try in my pigeon Korean to explain….”Yook-Sam building…uhh, next to..um die nächste wohnung…immer gerade aus..uhh, shit!” Everytime I try to think up how to say something in Korean the german phrase instantly pops in my head. It doesn’t help that he is one major ass that keeps yelling at me. I am realizing that without language you don’t have anything. I feel much more timid and shy than I ever would in the U.S., or even now in Germany for that matter. If someone talked to me like that, older or not, I would eloquently voice my displeasure than get the hell of out the cab. But in Seoul, with no cell phone, no idea of where the hell I was…I just sat back and listened to his abuse then kept asking if I could use his “hand-uh pone-uh” to call my aunt. I guess he realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere because he finally just asked for the number.
On the menu that night was the most delicious bo-sam at a country style Korean restaurant and some ket-ko daenjang chigae (fermented soybean paste stew with crab) and soon-dubu (spicy tofu stew.) Bo-sam is really tender pork belly that you eat wrapped with soybean paste, a sliver of fresh garlic, and in this case kimchi. You could also eat it wrapped with a variety of lettuces and greens. My cousin Peter took the train in from Inchon and joined us. He moved from California half a year ago and Korea seems to suit him. He is thriving in a way I never saw in Cali. The fact that the chucklehead, as we lovingly call him, is teaching English and doing well is something that I do indeed chuckle over. I wasn’t even aware he knew the difference between an adverb and adjective! I suspect a new generation of Koreans will grow up peppering their language with a healthy dose of “dude” and “friggin’ awesome.”
We got a drink at a bar next to the restaurant where my cousin shows me some Korean apps for iphone that get me through the next few days. Particularly funny is the World Nomads Korean Plus app. With phrases for every basic situation, there’s also an especially hilarious section on “flirting.” For those of you out there who ever wondered how to tastefully ask if someone has “protection” in Korea, here goes….”Kon-dom isseyo?” Here were some other choice favorites:
That was quick! – Bbahl-laht-neyo
Easy Tiger!! – Salsalhae-jooseyo (although actually that literally means, please do it softly…)
I’m not just saying this because I’m drunk! – Chuihaeson-haneum-mari-ani-eyo
I’m not a stalker, really! – Jeoneum suh-talk-uh jin-cha ani-eyo!
And for all you rock stars out there who want to tell the ladies:
I’m a Rock Star – Jeo-neun Rok-stah ip-ni-da
(what I’m finding very useful- which also does well in germany is to just say the English word at times with a very thick Korean accent, and it works wonders in communication. Where’s the bus stop?- Bus-eu stop-eu odi-seyo?)
The next day my aunt takes me to an amazing restaurant out in a country suburb of Seoul. The name of the place roughly translates into: Squirrel on a mountain in the middle of a valley… Which, is kind of where the restaurant is. It’s an organic bio place that makes the most amazing mook I have ever tasted in my life. Their gochukaru is clearly handground and combined with the spicy mustard greens, spring onions and organically grown mook, my palate is having an intense culinary orgasm. This is some seriously good food.
The restaurant itself is situated next to a lake that overlooks some far off mountains. The grey skies and misty cloud cover creates a romantic atmosphere in the extensive back gardens. Considering the hour long wait for lunch, it’s clear the locals appreciate the extra touch that goes into creating organic, sustainable food.
Afterwards, we take a little detour and end up at the top of a different mountain where there is another Buddhist temple. I am starting to realize that all lost paths leading up will eventually take you to a temple. I suppose it’s fitting…getting lost and finding nirvana sometimes feel the same, it’s a plunge into the unknown.
I end my day at a Jjimjilbang (Korean bathhouse). I’m convinced that Jjimjilbangs are the secret weapon that keep Korean women thin. After a few hours of steaming away in hot mineral waters, sitting in a hot sauna, then taking a quick nap on hot salt crystals in the “jjimjilbang” I’ve lost at least a kilo…my pants are feeling much looser. Hallelujah! They were starting to get uncomfortably snug. It’s hard work trying to eat through an entire country’s food culture in one month!
I get a deh-midi (literally its translates into something like “dirt rubbing.” It’s a treatment where a tough old lady in her bra and panties scrubs you down clean with a rough cloth that exfoliates pretty much every layer of dead skin on your entire body. Afterwards you feel as smooth as a baby’s bottom). I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to my deh-midi, if it ain’t rough, it ain’t worth it, but this is one time it might have been worth my while to say “Salsalhae-jooseyo!” A day later, minus an epidermis, I’m covered in tiny bumps and ouch! they hurt!