Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SG-KR-JP: the middle

Sorry. My intentions to update this thing frequently were obviously over-ambitious, given that I have now left Seoul and only posted once.

Anyway, my overall conclusion from a few days there is: Seoul is awesome.

If you take fantastic food, a great selection of drinks and fun company from all over the world, you've got yourself a great trip. Seoul had all of that, plus a lot of really interesting local people / culture / ambience.

My time there worked out so well mainly by luck I think, which once again seems to confirm my "planning is usually over-rated" outlook on life haha. The short version of a long story is that I went to Seoul because I was too disorganised to get myself to Shanghai. But funnily enough everything seemed pretty much to fall into place when I got there (despite having only planned for a grand total of about 50 minutes prior to landing).

A few words of thanks before we get on to pictures
Jihee and JJ: incredibly grateful for helping to bridge the language barrier and also just generally for helping work out where to go / what to do.
May and Henry: the trip would not have been the same, or anywhere near as fun without you both there.

More Korean BBQ in Korea (think this is Wednesday). The round pieces of meat were my favourite, which was translated into English as "Boston Butt" on the menu (that was, incidentally, the only reason we actually ordered it).

After eating all that meat in the picture above, we went in search of some makgeolli (pronounced muk-gol-lee, or "Milky Soju" as Henry insisted on calling it). After a bit of aimless wondering around, we finally found some in a small-ish restaurant. It was worth the walk though. If there is one drink I will remember Seoul by, this is it. The best I can do to describe it is a semi-sweet, cloudy looking rice wine, that's about 5% alcohol. I think you are actually meant to drink it from a small bowl normally too.

May and JJ enjoying some makgeolli (using cups, not bowls - that comes later haha):

Met up with Jihee! First time in ... 5 years?? ... It's hard to describe how good it is catching up with old friends. Definitely has to be one of my favourite things about travelling.

Jihee was kind enough to take us for some traditional Korean food, the names of which I have no hope of remembering but included an range of vegetables / fish / kimchee / and other small side dishes. Was delicious, not to mention a good change from the Korean BBQ I'd been having.

We followed dinner up with a much more recent invention: cocktail soju (really just soju mixed with fruit juice I think). I was warned multiple times by a few people that it is "dangerous" because you don't realise how much alcohol you are drinking - it is very sweet. Needless to say, that night did turn a bit crazy later on - but I am still going to blame it on the whole bottle of Greygoose that 4 of us managed to finished.

I am pleased to say I do not have many pictures as evidence of what went on after. But here is a nice shot of some apple cocktail soju - served in a cup made out of an apple:

This is from the next day, where we got a bit hungry while we were out and randomly ordered this awesome kimchi + pork platter thing. Like really awesome. I say that because you shouldn't assume it was awesome by the fact both Henry and May are taking photos of it in this shot. That happened pretty much with every single dish I saw them eat. I know I am one of the last people who should be making fun of photographing food - but it was still amusing.

As everyone knows the best cure for binge drinking is binge eating. And that is exactly what we did on Saturday at lunch :P

May's colleage, Haejung, was kind enough to take us around the Insadong area (famous apparently for sort of "traditional / old Korea") where we found a nice restaurant and ordered a set menu that had 16 dishes for the 3 of us. If you are wondering, we didn't quite finish but we got pretty close.

Henry's friends clowning around in Insadong: Raj and Kristy. It is a bit hard to appreciate how out of place this looked at the time. But trust me, it got plenty of amused looks from the people walking past

Lanterns (which apparently get lit up at night) put up in preparation for the birthday of Buddha in few weeks time. At least, that's what I think they were for. Pretty though:

Just near those lanterns, we also found what we decided must have been a cartoon version of Buddha in statue form:

This is a shot from a night market place we went to for dinner. We found this lovely store owner who was super warm and welcoming to the bunch of crazy looking tourists like ourselves. Her stall mainly served a variety of egg-battered items (e.g. fish cakes, tofu, fish, chillis). She also served makgeolli :P

There was also a really nice local Korean couple who happened to be sitting next to us at the stall. They were probably amused at the start at seeing the bunch of us turn up there, but a few bowls of makgeolli later, I think they felt like uncle and aunty. I am pretty sure Henry was trying to get them to adopt him for a decent part of the meal.

The food was good, and the company here made dinner at that stall probably the highlight of my time in Seoul:

And finally, I also paid a visit to Gyonbokgung Palace.

Big thanks to May here for organising this. Importantly, organising this before we decided to get ourselves massively sleep deprived for a third night in a row haha. There is no way it would have happened otherwise.

Even though in the end I couldn't get my little digital guide / headset working (to tell me about the historical significance of everything), it was a really nice place for a stroll and the weather was beautiful too.

It reminded me a lot of Japan though...

Especially given there was sakura (cherry-blossoms) there as well!

And I just realised how damn late it is here now so will leave it there. Till next time!

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