Despite all the illness at the tail end of of my Korea trip – I did get out and do much more touristy stuff than I’d expected. Or at least as much as one might reasonably expect while staying in a capital city of ten million of another country for nearly three weeks.
As on my visit to Seoul, seven years prior, when I mentioned I wanted to see art, I was immediately directed towards the neighborhood of Insadong.
There is one long main street dotted with galleries, cute shops, and street vendors selling fans, chopsticks, and other favorite Korean knick-knacks, including mini-stampers of any photobooth picture that you could provide. (Postcards, though, were amazingly difficult to come across – particularly ones with a food theme…)
And while yes, this is a touristy area, Seoul, in general is not very touristy, compared to other cities I’ve visited. There were definitely just regular Seoulites strolling about, most comically, the ever-present couples dressed in matching outfits. This seems to be a popular thing in Korea, this dressing like eachother. It’s cute in that uber-cute Asian way that makes cartoon characters have enormously big dark eyes.
We stopped to buy a touristy treat, which is called a Kkultarae, or a traditional court cake made of thin strands of honey – 16,000 strands to be precise.
The guy started with a solid block of boiled honey slighter larger than his fist. Slowly he stretched it out into a long ring loop. Then constantly dipping the loop into a vat of cornstarch, he folded the loop in half, and continued the stretching process. That made 4 strands.
Less than 12 folds later, the honey strands were thin as cobwebs – literally 16,000 threads of honey!
Then he tore off an 12-inch length and wrapped it around a spoonful of sesame and nut mixture. The texture was very unusual – like a light honey cloud, but similar to baklava once the honey melted in your mouth.
We ended up buying five boxes, of which we consumed three! One box was a gift for the folks who lived in the apartment underneath my parents (we didn’t know them, but they were definitely experiencing a lot of our noise) and the other was for my neighbors back home.
Notable art that day was the Red Room – I would tell you the artist’s name, if I could make out which Korean word on the pamphlet was a name (that’s how few tourists – everything is still written in Korean!). The entire room was strung with metallic red ribbon – and blindly you had to navigate your way to five different spots in the room. You paid $1 (1000 won) and were a given a map and directions before entering. Visitors entered the room individually and were spaced out by at least a minute. At one point, Songbae stretched and screamed – there were butcher knives dangling above our heads and his fingers had grazed one! he wasn’t hurt, but we all got a big laugh.
For dinner, we stopped in at a cozy restaurant simply called “Bpap,” which is the Korean word for “rice” and also for “food.” It was an old-style house that had been transformed into a restaurant with a few different rooms. They had one specialty: kimchee chim – which was stewed kimchee served with pork and tofu and rice, of course.
Afterwards, we (my brother, his friend, Christian and I) got a coffee at an upscale district nearby – this is where I paid $5 for my espresso.
Taxi home – and fell into bed.