Yesterday a new arrival came to town. Another friend from Nova Scotia. We are arriving in droves these days. We meet up with Nick at a subway station in Mokdong and head to a Hof. A Hof is a Korean bar with a stolen German name. I was immediately suspicious when I arrived to the country and saw the letter F written in neon lights. There is no letter F, or any equivalent, in the Korean alphabet. So a borrowed name from Germany, but no German food inside. The strange nature of these establishments are par for the course in the Hermit Kingdom.
We order a few dishes, some delicious, some less so. I’m a little bit confused on the inside after a few bites of the Korean pancake dish with octopus tentacles baked into it. No matter. The beer is good and the other dishes are fantastic.
As we stop at the 7-11 for more beer to take home, we crack a can open at the picnic benches outside. While we yammer back and forth about this, that, and the other thing, a lone Korean man sipping a Starbucks iced coffee seems to be interested in our ramblings. This sort of thing happens here rather frequently: a Korean man hears your conversation, or perhaps notices that you’re the only white person for thirty miles, and decides it’s a good time to practice his own English. He politely asks where we are from. We tell him we’re all Canadian.
The next thing we know, three and a half hours have passed, and the friendly Korean man has now bought the four of us several rounds of beer and three large bags of chips. We have actually depleted the entire supply of Heineken from the convenience store. By this time it’s 1:30 in the morning. He wants to take us out for duck and more beer, but we’re exhausted and far too inebriated. We say our goodbyes, and, after being handed his business card, part ways. This is the fourth random Korean to strike up a conversation with me since arriving, but the first who managed to get me shit-faced.
After another beer on the roof of an apartment, we call it a night.
I wake up at eight-fifteen, and it’s not a good situation in my bowels. It has been a long time since I’ve consumed this much beer. I have to be back in Yangjae by ten in order to meet the guy who is setting up my internet connection in my apartment. The hour-long subway ride is rather unpleasant, partially because it’s unusually busy for a Saturday and partially because of the yeast-induced enema that is impending upon my arrival to my own bathroom.
A few hours and some egg-and-toast breakfast later, I’m feeling much better.
I head to Gangnam for a Korean class that I’ve signed up for. It’s a once a week class and it’s free, and I’m eager to get down and dirty with some Korean phrases. Most of the students there are also rather fresh off the boat, aside from a few that are in their third or fourth years and have only now decided that they would actually like to know what the sketchy sign in the end of some dark alley actually says as they stumble by drunk late one night. The class is difficult, but enjoyable, and I decide that I will make it a weekly event.
A late sleep. Probably not a good idea. For some reason or another I have been finding that sleeping in hasn’t made me feel the best lately. Maybe it’s the fact that I now live on a schedule that could be described as normal. Normal isn’t something I’m very used to, but it’s growing on me. I make a resolution to sleep less and keep getting up as early as an old woman heading to a breakfast buffet.
We trek into the city to see a river called the Cheonggyecheon. It cuts through the middle of the city, washing cold, clear water in a strong but shallow current through the dominating figures of skyscrapers. Along the riverbanks, families and couples gather to splash in the water, walk the paths alongside it, or to simply stand in the mist showers to cool off.
When we reach the source, we find a plaque that explains the origin of the river.At one point, it was a natural river, six hundred years ago. Then came modernization, and eventually it all but dried up. It was decided that the path of the river would make an excellent elevated highway, and so it was constructed as such. Someone, in hindsight some years later, decided that this had been, in fact, a terrible idea. Despite protests from some local businesses, the city decided to scrap the highway and replace it with a new river. Finished in 2005, it became a new landmark for the city, a heavily frequented tourist attraction, and a favourite place for locals to spend time. According to one source I read, the river actually cools Seoul’s brutal, humid heat by 10%.
We stop for lunch at a local MacDonalds. It’s not my first trip into a Korean MacDonald’s, but it’s the first time I decide to try the local adaptation that is the Bulgogi Burger. More on that later.
It’s late afternoon, and we’re running out of steam, so we headed to our final stop for the day, Deoksu Palace. It is a small palace located next to Seoul City hall, one of a half-dozen palaces that have been in place since the Jeosun Dynasty.
The palace is beautiful, and we wander through in the humid heat and snap a million photos of the ancient architecture. Much of the palace had been destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1910, but roughly a third were saved and all were rebuilt.
One of my favorite items in the palace was an ancient water clock which had been considered a major scientific achievement when it was constructed. The device is a series of vases and pillars that told you what hour it was based on the amount of water that had passed from one vase to the other. I also found myself amused by the ancient rocket launcher that was used in Korean warfare. I’m can honestly say, I’m not kidding.
As I’ve come to learn, you should be surprised by nothing in Korea.