Monday, November 08, 2010

Korea - Last Days

After the wedding, it was kind of back to life as usual for Matt and Dawon. Matt had to go back to teaching, Dawon back to her classes, homework included. They did, however, manage to still spend time with me and James. Sometimes it would be just Matt, sometimes just Dawon, and they managed to both be there more often than not.

The original plan was to go to Everland (the Korean version of Disneyland) the day after the wedding. Everyone was pretty tired from the big day though, so we contented ourselves with roaming Seoul. Dawon scheduled a massage for all of us and while we were waiting for our appointment, we went to the Children's Folklore Museum.

The grounds were quite nice and had lots of displays like the stone priests above. The building is the museum itself, but it was apparently closed while we were there. We could still do the outside stuff though!

That included a mock up street of a traditional Korean Village (think 1800s farm at the Tallahassee Junior Museum). Matt found the radio station!

There was also a set up for playing various outdoor games, including a variation of lawn darts. No one actually was good at it, though Dawon managed to get one stick through one of the side holes. As we were leaving to go to our appointment, Dawon pointed this particular statue out - legend says that if you rub his nose, your next child will be a boy. He used to have quite a large nose, but it's been somewhat flattened over time!

Our massages were in a place above a fish market. As you climbed the stairs, a chime went off. As I discovered later, all of the masseuses were blind. It seems that in order to hold a state license for massage, you have to be! (An aside here: There is apparently a large population of blind people in Seoul. I don't know the reason for it, but the city is very accomodating - all the sidewalks have raised ridges down the middle so they will stay safe, and each obstacle, be it stairs or a curb or a doorway has raised dots in front of it. Even the subway has a series of chimes that let you know if a station is a transfer station or if the train is coming or about to move.) Back to the story: Massages are done in pairs, so James and I went into this room, while Matt and Dawon went into another. As we waited our turns, Dawon told us that this was Korean-style massage - which meant nothing to us until the masseuses put their hands on us.
Oh, my god.... At first it was incredibly painful, like being tossed into a food processor, but as time went on, the muscles came unknotted and it began to feel very nice indeed. It wasn't massage in the usual sense - this was accupressure massage. I've never had that before, but for my neck and shoulders it was probably the best one I've ever had.
I'm not entirely sure I remember the order of things - I don't remember what it was we did that night. We may have just gone back to the hotel and crashed. James probably explored while I took a hot bath and slept.
Anyway, the next day was our last full day in Seoul. Dawon had class, so Matt came and got us and we went to Itaewon - also known as AmericaTown. Lots of shops and clothes that actually mostly fit the American frame. Matt does all his clothes shopping here because he can't find clothes that fit him anywhere else. Most of those stores had "BIG" in the title somewhere (because American's are BIG). My favorite was the "Bigitoria" where I bought one of my shirts. It was both amusing and dismaying as you might as well have stamped "big, fat American" on my forehead. I'm not tall, but I make up for it in circumference. After our shopping, Matt wanted to take us for Korean Barbecue - traditionally an evening meal but we were to have dinner at Dawon's mother's house that night, so eating BBQ that night was out. We wandered down a few alleys and found a place with the door open. Matt went in and asked if they would serve us because technically, they were closed. They said they would!

We were all a little worn out from our shopping expedition and were grateful for the chance to sit down! Korean BBQ is kind of a do-it-yourself affair. There's a round grill in the middle of the table and you are brought dishes of various things to cook and/or use as condiments. The meat is really thick slices of pork. We also grilled pieces of garlic. Eating it is a bit like eating a fajita - with a lettuce leaf as your tortilla, add meat, some BBQ sauce, some garlic, bean sprouts, seaweed, mushrooms - whatever you want on it, roll it up and eat it. Wonderful!!!!

We took the uber-clean subway back to the hotel to clean up a little and meet Dawon for the trip to her mother's house. It's just a few blocks from their new place, which is very nice.
We got off and headed to Baskin Robbins to buy a cake for dessert, then walked to HangSoon's apartment. Her little sister HwaSoon (ee mo) was there cooking up a storm and her mother, Dawon's grandmother, Halmone was there too. Again, Korean food does not disappoint! Ee mo laid out a fantastic spread.

It included some little bone-in pieces of meat that had a wonderfully sweet barbecue-like sauce on it, but once it was in your mouth it began to heat up until your lips were all tingly. Loved it! There were lots of other things as well... pumpkin soup, fried pumpkin, shrimp, rice balls, kimchee - both red and white (I don't care for the red, but liked the white quite a bit)... I wish I'd gotten a picture of the whole table!

Dawon and Ee mo cleaned up after the meal while we visited with Halmone and HangSoon. Then it was time for cake and fruit! Honeydew melon and some very large, purple grapes.

After dessert, HangSoon made tea. I was thrilled to see this, as Matt and Dawon had sent my parents a tea set but they weren't sure how to use it. I watched the process closely, making mental notes so that I could show them when I got back.

The white round thing in the bottom center is tea. It comes in a cake of sorts and can be quite old. The older the tea, the more revered. This tea was 10 years old, but HangSoon has had tea that was 100 years old before. It was an amazing meal and I enjoyed myself very much!
After dinner, we exchanged hugs with HangSoon, HwaSoon and Halmone, then walked with Matt and Dawon back to their new place. It's small, but absolutely palacial compared to Matt's previous place! It had fairly high ceilings, which kept it from feeling cavelike (unlike my first apartment where I could touch the ceiling, short person that I am!). Once they've settled in and made it home, it's going to be just lovely. They're still moving though, so it was a bit jumbled when we saw it. Still, I could see the potential. I think they will be quite happy there!
On our last day, we took it easy. I showered and packed, then left James to it while I went down to the coffee shop to chat with ZBoy over the internet. James showed up shortly thereafter and we had a cup of coffee. Matt called - Uncle was at the hotel ready to check us out! We gulped down the last of our coffee, shut down our electronics and hustled back to the hotel. Uncle was there and Matt and Dawon showed up right after we did (which was good - Uncle doesn't appear to speak any English). Everyone signed off on the bill, then Uncle invited us to have coffee in the downstairs restaurant. We had a lovely visit, each promising to learn more of the other's language before we meet again (which will be in February!). With profuse thanks, we waved goodbye to Uncle as he went back to work. Dawon had to go to class, so Matt took us shopping one last time for a coat for James. We weren't far from the hotel as there was a large shopping district right there!

One of the stores was undergoing renovation and somehow we wound up on the wrong floor. I spotted these manequins and had to take a picture. Can you see why? Perhaps if you look at the second one?
James found his coat (which he's wearing in the next picture), and as we emerged, I spotted a sign for bubble tea. I had no idea what it was and asked Matt, who insisted on buying us some because describing it was... difficult.

It's kind of like a thin smoothie with large balls of tapioca on the bottom. The taste was good, but the sensation of sucking those tapioca up in the giant straw is very hard to describe. Startling is a good word...

And then it was time to go. We went back to the hotel, bought bus tickets and collected our bags. Matt and Dawon were going to ride the bus out to the airport with us, but as a 2 hour round trip on a free afternoon for newlyweds, I told them that we loved them but please don't. Why waste what little free time you have together riding a bus? We waved goodbye as the bus pulled away from the hotel. James pulled out his iPhone and checked in on FaceBook and we settled in for our long ride to the airport.

And that was it. We got our exit row seats again, but our seat mate was not chatty or personable this time, so we both dozed, watched movies, played games and said goodbye in Detroit after eating dinner at a booth on the concourse.
I arrived in Jacksonville late, checked into my hotel and passed out until after checkout time. Thankfully, I wasn't charged for an extra day. I loaded my stuff into my car and headed home, calling ahead to let people know I was on my way.
When ZBoy got home from school, he nearly crushed my ribs with his hug. Darling Man hugged me too and we stood there for a long moment in family hug.
It was a wonderful, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip, but it was very good to be home.


Island Rider said...

I have enjoyed reading your adventures!

Faye said...

Loved this in-depth account of your Korean travels, Sayre. Sorry I haven't been able to read your posts as you wrote them. Just read all tonight. I'm sure that your brother really appreciated your making the effort to go for his wedding. And I so identify with how great it feels to get home. I always say: good to go but good to get home as well.

Nona said...

Well I've just been reading your Korean posts to catch up on your Korean adventure. What a wonderful experience which was made all the better for having Matt and Dawon to help you get deeper into the culture than the average visitor would be able to. Made me want to jump on a plane right now. Btw. I want one of those toilets. :)