A lot of Japanese go to Korea to shop (it’s a lot cheaper than Japan). I had wanted to visit for years, but kept putting it off. Fortunately for me, I recently made a new friend from Canada that was born and raised in Korea and she was staying in Korea for the summer. She said that she would be happy to show me around if I came to town, so I found a ticket and went. That is how I my trip came about and this is how it went….
My limited experience with the Korean people I have met here in Japan has always been quite good. After spending five days in Korea, I can now say that my theory, that Koreans are far more relaxed than their neighbors to the East, is absolutely true! Seoul is a very large city and, from a distance, it really doesn’t seem all that different from any other big Asian city. Upon closer inspection, however, I found more differences than similarities; many of them positive.
I won’t list everything I noticed, but I will say that, for my tastes, the food was much better. ‘Frosted Flakes’ aside, Korean food was quite different than anything I have eaten. They use a lot of ‘kimchi’, which is a kind of spicy, fermented cabbage that sounds gross, but is actually quite good. The service is nowhere near as polished as it is in Japan, but that kind of added to the charm. I had so many great meals while I was there, but here are a few that stood out.
This one with the waffles was the weirdest, coolest combination of food that I have ever eaten! The waffle was topped with ice cream, fresh cream, and walnuts. The dish to the right of the waffle was a kind of rice that has been mushed into little cylinder shapes (I forgot the name) and it was topped with an extremely spicy, pepper, ‘kimchi’ sauce and onions. Individually, they were great, but together…OUTSTANDING! I will probably never again each such a strange combo (I finished everything in everyone of those photos, by the way).
We did a lot of sight seeing too, but I enjoyed the atmosphere more than anything. During my trip I couldn’t help but imagine myself living in Korea. I know that when visiting a place everything appears to be made of glitter and gold; Japan was no different when I arrived over six years ago. Ultimately, the thing I realized is, while Korea was great and Japan has become a second home of sorts, what I love more than both of these countries is Asia itself. It really is a fascinating place. The different languages (and their respective scripts), the exotic food, the culture, and the energy are all intoxicating. There are so many places to see and so many things to do.
On my last day in Seoul, Minhee and I decided to get a foot massage at a small shop in the subway station that we had walked by a number of times during the week. Neither of us had ever had one before, but thought it would be funny…IT WAS!
I was half joking before we went into the place that they would take one look at my feet and say, “I’m sorry sir, but there is absolutely nothing we can do for you.” When we walked in there was an unkempt Korean guy tending to us. According to my friend, he wasn’t very friendly, a little rude even. She confessed, loud enough for someone to hear, that she hoped he wasn’t the one who would massage us. Moments later, as he was drying off our feet, which had been soaking in scented water, he looks at me and says, in perfect American English, “where you from?” The guy had lived in New York for 20 years! I was cracking up. You really never know who speaks what. He was a funny guy and at one point during the massage he says to me, deadpan, “you need to wash your feet, man.” Too funny. I told him that, in many circles, I’m known as the pale faced “Black Foot.” It felt very odd to have some dude touching my feet, but the comedy more than made up for it.
On my last nite we went to a downtown disco. I was blown away at how different that was too. People seemed more into the dancing than they do here and they could move a lot better too. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, but trust me when I say that it really was an interesting scene.
So, there you have it. Five days and four nites in Korea has only wet my appetite for more travel/adventure. The world may in deed be getting smaller, but my interest in it grows stronger every day. Thank you Seoul and thank you Minhee!
또봐요 (to boayo)