Korea 2008 Day One: Namdaemun Market

by Kara on October 8, 2008

Stephen has posted 275 pictures from our trip to Korea on his website, if you would like to see more than what I have included in my travelogue.

Seoul Station is the primary train station for Seoul.

Seoul Station is the primary train station for Seoul.

I am writing this at about 4:30 in the morning. As you can tell, my body clock is not entirely reset. I thought I might be able to sleep a little later today, but that didn’t work out. Staying with Stephen’s Dad is a trade-off. We lose the autonomy that we are used to when we vacation, but I am exposed to parts of Korean culture that you just won’t get in a hotel. I have been bugging Stephen for a trip to Korea for awhile, and this year, we finally decided to go. I have studied the Korean language on and off for about 10 years (before I even met Stephen), but I am still terrible. It will be nice to have a chance to practice.

On Wednesday, we didn’t get going until after lunch. Stephen and I made a plan to take the subway to Anguk, and walk through Bukchon to see the traditional houses. When we took off, I thought that was where we were going, but that isn’t where we ended up. We got off at Seoul Station so that Stephen’s Dad could buy train tickets for us to go to Daejeon on Monday to visit one of Stephen’s uncles.

"We Carry Dog Meat"

We Carry Dog Meat

Then we started walking. We walked past the remains of Namdemeun gate, or The South Gate, which is the one an old man burned down in February because the government didn’t give him enough money for his land when they bought him out to build a highway. We couldn’t see a lot, because they are rebuilding it and it is covered with scaffolding. Then we walked across the street into Namdemeun Market, which was huge. There was all the usual flea market junk, but also lots of street food and grocers focusing on one type of food (seafood, roast duck, ginseng, mushrooms, fruit). We saw a sign that said “Geh gogi pamnida”, or “We have dog meat”. Don’t worry, we didn’t buy any.

Next, we headed into Lotte Department store, which has around 10 floors of everything from clothes to electronics to groceries. I am still not sure why we went. There are several sets of escalators throughout the store because it is so big, and we rode up and down most of them. Up and down, up and down, up and down. We did stop off to look at electronics, and while Stephen and his Dad looked at the ultra thin flat screen televisions, I marveled over the rhinestone encrusted washing machines and flowery refrigerators. They were made by Samsung, but we don’t get the flowery stuff in the US, which hardly seems fair. I couldn’t resist grabbing the catalog to paste a couple photos in my journal. We also went into the gourmet grocery store in the basement, and I swear they must work on commission there, as anxious as they were to sell us some fish. I did see some fish that were selling for $200!

Stephen’s Dad also took us through some winding alley and we ended up behind an old house. He said he and his sister lived there for three years before the war. But in 1951, his sister was killed in a U.S. air strike. He said she was 27 and had two young sons (the sons live in North Korea).

After some quick escalator trips through another department store, we headed back to the apartment. Sleep has been difficult, not least because the pillow are stuffed with wood shavings so they make crinkle noises whenever you move, yet somehow they are still hard as rock. I was waking up with sore ears, so last night I made my own pillow out of a blanket and a t-shirt. It was marginally better, if a little low.

Check out more of Stephen’s pictures of South Korea.

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