Sunday, July 10, 2011

Culture, Climbing, and Chicken

Although I've spent the majority of my time here in Korea either at the hotel or at Cafe ilot, I have been able to get out and about some too.

Three things interest me about this next picture: 1. Below most large stores in Korea are several levels of underground parking (a wise conservation of space), 2. Notice the conformity in car color choices (almost every vehicle here is some shade of gray or white), 3. It's a bit difficult to see, but there is a light above each parking space in the garage; if it is red, the space is already filled - green if the space is open. This is quite helpful when seeking out that lone space!

Joo's aunt was excited to take me to Ashley - a new buffet restaurant that opened up in the area. I think that it was designed to offer a selection of Western-style foods, although they were really Korean spins on Western foods (kind of like the food in China is rarely similar to what one finds in our Chinese restaurants). For example, there was pasta, but it was black squid ink pasta. Which of course made the meal a lot more fun for me since I can get normal Western food any day back home.

The next day, Joo's aunt and uncle showed up at the hotel and told us they were going to take Joo and I around to some cultural sights and then for some exercise. The timing was good as I had already spent an hour or so downstairs in the lobby trying to come up with witty things to say to the hotel staff and my witty well was running dry.

The cultural part of our day consisted of going to a traditional black bamboo garden where there was a dance performance going on.

The park was created in honor of Yi Yi, the Korean Abe Lincoln (shown below). My comparison here rests solely on the fact that his face is on the Korean 5,000 W bill and Abe's is on our $5 bill. Aside from that, they were probably quite different.

After the cultural leg of our journey came the promised exercise. As it turned out, it was hiking a mountain (I have to confess that these plans were probably revealed to me in Korean at some point along the way. I often zone out after listening to a certain amount of Korean and so I just revert to smile and nod mode.) Mountain-hiking is a major recreational activity in Korea. This can be quickly seen by boarding any form of transportation - even the subway in Seoul - as there will almost certainly be some Korean adults dressed in North Face jackets with their hiking poles in hand. Perhaps because of how common it is, the hike is not simply about leisurely enjoying the surrounding nature - it's about aggressively tackling the mountain. I finally had a chance to catch my breath when we got to a waterfall.

Another stop along the way was an intricately decorated Buddhist temple. We drank a cup of water from the eternal springs outside of the temple and here is where I've been a bit corrupted by all my travelling. Instead of thinking, "Ah, how refreshing to drink of the same fount as these enlightened monks," I thought, "Giardia. Giardia. I hope the third time is a charm."

The final destination of our hike was not the mountain top (probably a good thing as that would have been a 10-hour hike at the same aggressive clip we were moving at), but rather a rock formation called the Place of 10,000 Images. I didn't quite understand the rationale behind the naming as I only observed 1 image, but that image was fairly pronounced (it's the face shown below; notice that the trees even create an appearance of hair).

Joo Yeon, who was exhausted at the end of our 4-hour hike, was convinced this was a sign that she was pregnant. Despite my doubts (1. I've noticed over the past year that wanting to be pregnant frequently leads to overemphasizing signs like feeling tired or hungry. 2. I just arrived in Korea a few days ago.), I played along with it for the sake of all the family members who are eager to get little Fetal Showalter conceived.

If there would have been a baby inside her, however, it would have been very pleased with the feast that followed our hike. Joo's mom treated us all to an incredible meal at the foot of the mountain in a little flower-papered room for a place known for its white chicken (scarcely any Korean food eludes the ubiquitous red pepper paste and so "white chicken" is simply chicken that hasn't been peppered).

Shown below are merely the appetizers we were served while waiting on the chicken. In fact, this picture was taken before even all the appetizers had arrived :) I love the Korean side dish concept where the table is filled with side dishes, any of which can be refilled constantly for free. On this occasion, I honed in on the pickled garlic and some seasoned mountain plant that I had never tried before, although I gobbled up my fair share of buckwheat vegetable pancakes dipped in red pepper paste.

There was so much food that Kong's (the dog) table portions were a bit larger than usual.

Speaking of phantom pregnancies, Kong has actually had two within the past two years where her belly swells and her nipples enlarge for lactation. My theory is that she's been eavesdropping on my mother-in-law's phone conversations with JooYeon and these were her fervent attempts to do her part for the family.

And now, after another wonderful night's sleep (I've noticed that I always tend to sleep more soundly when I try to function in a foreign language all day long), it's time to head down to the lobby to earn my morning laughter by conjuring up a fresh set of witticisms!

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