Yesterday, I met up with one of my former students Hyeran for a walking tour of some areas in downtown Seoul.
We started at Cheonggyecheon (청계천), a man-made stream running through the city.
Then we saw Bosingak (보신각), a bell “pavilion” nearby. Like a lot of things in Seoul, it is very old, though apparently, it burned down several times and has been rebuilt. I think it was going to be rung later that day, but I didn’t stick around to hear it.
Next on Hyeran’s agenda was Insadong (인사동), a traditional/cultural district with a main thoroughfare filled with shops. It’s a little tourist-y, but visiting it doesn’t make you feel like you’ve sold your soul to Satan (I’m talking to you, San Antonio Riverwalk!) In fact, all signage must be in hangul, even if the company is not Korean. For example:
Right away, I noticed a crowd of people forming around this normal-looking man who was getting his make-up done.
As it turns out, he is some semi-famous actor who has had roles in a few Korean dramas. Unfortunately, I don’t watch dramas, so I have no idea who he is. (엘리 씨, I am counting on you to comment and illuminate me.) Apparently, he is famous enough that we weren’t supposed to take pictures of him. Oops.
Many young Koreans are desperate to display their puppy love, as evidenced by this rooftop café’s decor. For an exorbitant price (7000 KRW), you could buy a vinyl disk and personalize it with a Sharpie, thereby making your declarations of love immortal…until the sun bleaches the writing. I’m way too cynical for this. Sorry, boyfriend (who doesn’t read MicaPie).
I, however, was more interested in playing this traditional Korean game, which involves throwing a wooden dowel into a narrow bucket:
As Hyeran’s urging, I also posed with this “winnowing basket.” According to the sign, this basket was used by Korean mothers of yesteryear to humiliate their children into not wetting their beds:
“The mother puts a winnowing basket on her child who just wetted his bed and spread the rumor to embarrass the child about the fact that he just wetted his bed in order to let him avoid wetting his bed again in the future. She then demanded the child to go around the neighbor and ask for salt which will repel negative vitality.”
Now, I have no plans for children right now, but if I had them, I would most certainly use such a device on my bed-wetting progeny.
Don’t laugh. I wetted myself with the condensation on my water bottle:
Near Insadong is Jogyesa (조계사), a famous Buddhist temple. My last experience with a Buddhist temple in Korea involved nearly puking in the backseat of an Acura, so this time was mercifully shorter and easier. Plus, the temple was hosting a lot of cultural events that I could participate in:
One of the activities was getting to make traditional dduk or Korean rice cake. This involves beating rice into submission until it becomes a giant gelatinous mass, which is then consumed as absurd mockery of real dessert. [I kid, Korea! Sort of.] The mallet was actually quite heavy. As such, only men were trying this activity…that is, until I came along.
Check out the Korean guys in the background. I’ve got them shakin’ in their boots.
I hear that Jogyesa is normally a peaceful respite in the hustle and bustle of Seoul, but that was not the case yesterday. The rice cake that I was pounding was being distributed for free, and if there is one thing that Korean ajummas love, it is free stuff.
You seriously could have mistaken this scene for humanitarian food aid distribution during a severe famine when people’s hunger drives them to unscrupulous behavior. Or maybe they were that excited to taste dduk pounded by yours truly.
I didn’t want to get trampled by some ajummas for free food, so Hyeran and I slipped off to a cute Korean restaurant that made giant dumplings:
I, however, had bibimbap.
Though I’m a little sad that I missed the Made dishes boiled beef (and the devil knows what boiled beef):
Hyeran is actually from Ulsan, but she went to Yonsei University and knows a lot about Seoul. She was a great tour guide and came up with a lot of things to do. This is a lot more pleasant than when people just ask me to decide. It’s not as if I’m going to say, “Hmm, first I’m hoping that there’s a thousand-year-old bell pavilion. And then I demand to find a Korean C-list celebrity before being trampled by some middle-aged women at a Buddhist temple.” Seriously, I can’t even dream up stuff this good.