Korea 2008 Day Two: Incheon

by Kara on October 9, 2008

For our first breakfast here, Stephen’s Dad asked us what we wanted. Stephen said we usually ate cereal, so Stephen’s Dad promised us Korean cereal, which is “much better than Cheerios”. He said it was a mixture of grains. It tasted like grains, which was just fine, but the texture was like silt! Of course I didn’t say anything, but they also serve lots of fruit with every meal, so I never quite finished it and still had enough to eat. This morning, Stephen’s Dad offered us some “American crap cereal”, which we eagerly accepted. I made a special point of slurping the milk out of the bottom of my bowl. We also get bread (not toasted) and jam (grape, luckily, since it is the only flavor of jam I like) and orange juice. Overall, a pretty healthy breakfast, and quite satisfying now that I have my American crap cereal, thank you very much.

Today, we took the subway to Incheon to see Stephen’s uncle Yu Sun. His family greeted us very warmly and when we sat down, they brought a low table out with sikhye (a sweet rice punch), songpyeon (half moon rice cakes), baekseolgi (steamed white rice cake), kimchi and fresh fruit. There was just enough for me, Stephen, Stephen’s Dad and Stephen’s uncle. His aunt and three cousins did not sit on the floor with us around the table. I think this is a traditional spread they have when they have special (family?) guests. While we were eating, Stephen’s aunt came and handed Stephen and me each a fat envelope full of money. She was really pleased when I said thank you in Korean. My extremely limited Korean pleased them quite a bit. They were surprised I knew the word for older brother (of a woman – there is a different word for the older brother of a man) and a few other little words and phrases. Anyway, I guess our need to go to an ATM for some Korean Won is alleviated for the moment. I think the money is another traditional thing for the kids, but that they usually do it at New Year’s.

After that, we went out for lunch. It was a traditional place where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor (very hard on the knees I have to say). They served these huge platters of roast duck with mustard to dip it in and various types of leaves to wrap them in (cabbage, lettuce and something that looked like a leaf off a tree). There were also lots of muchim or nameul, which are all the little side dishes including kimchi. There was some sort of spicy soup and bibim-naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles with a spicy sauce and various vegetables). There were also copious amounts of alcohol. They wanted me to try soju, mek ju (beer) and some sort of cider that looked, smelled and tasted like sprite, but had a strong alcoholic aftertaste. Stephen’s uncle kept telling us to come visit him again before we leave to eat live shrimp (not that we eat them alive, but that they are alive when they start cooking them). He was quite insistent and made us pinky swear. When I did it, he thought it was so hilarious that he had his daughter take a picture.

After our lunch, we parted from Stephen’s uncle’s family, and as they drove off, Stephen’s Uncle stuck his head out the car window and yelled, “Don’t forget live shrimp!” We hopped into a taxi, and since I don’t know enough Korean, I had no idea where we were going, but I foolishly hoped it was back to the apartment. Ha ha. We went down to the Incheon harbor. The place we were at was called Wolmido – “Place of Youth and Culture”. Koreans can be very literal sometimes. We walked along the boardwalk. There were all these fishing poles lined up against the railing and you could rent one if you wanted to fish. Stephen’s Dad pointed out that the poles were right next to signs that said “No Fishing”.

A fisherman perches on the rocks in Wolmido, Incheon, South Korea.

A fisherman perches on the rocks in Wolmido, Incheon, South Korea.

Stephen said his Dad wanted to take a tourist boat ride. I was really apprehensive because I tend to get very motion sick, but the water looked calm, so I decided to chance it. It turned out to be totally fine. We went out into the harbor where they were building a HUGE long concrete bridge. The two sides were about to meet in the middle and they had one section left to build. There was a big party of people (maybe 40s and 50s) who brought LOTS of alcohol and got drunk before the boat even left the harbor. But they weren’t terribly obnoxious or anything. Koreans like their soju.

After the boat ride, we got back in a taxi. Home? No way. We drove through Incheon’s Chinatown, then got out on the other side and got out at the entrance to Jayu Park. The park had a huge monument dedicated to the Centennial of US-Korean Diplomatic Relations (1882-1982). The explanation said that relationship has survived many changes and vicissitudes. Stephen’s Dad asked what vicissitudes meant, but I only had a guess. The next morning, I was thumbing through my Korean-English dictionary (no English-Korean), and the word vicissitudes actually caught my eye. I told Stephen’s Dad the Korean word and he knew exactly what it meant – “rise and fall” or “ups and downs”. Funny that I had to use a Korean dictionary to find out what an English word meant.

A statue of General Douglas McArthur stands in the middle of Jayu Park in Incheon, South Korea.

A statue of General Douglas McArthur stands in the middle of Jayu Park in Incheon, South Korea.

Anyway, we walked on and I could see a huge statue in the distance, and it looked like an American soldier. Stephen’s Dad asked if I knew who it was and I said the only name that came to mind in relation to the Korean War – McArthur. It was just a guess, but I was right and it made me look like I actually remembered some of my American history. It was commemorating the American landing at Incheon. Stephen’s Dad said one local citizen’s group wanted to tear down the statue and build a museum and another wanted to keep it. So far, the “keep its” have won out. I am not sure when it was built, but it seems a shame to tear it down just because of the historical significance.

After that, we walked back down into Chinatown and went to get a bowl of Jajangmyun, which is a noodle dish with a black bean sauce. Incheon’s Chinatown is the birthplace of Jajangmyun. Chinese claim the dish as their own, but Koreans also claim it because it was invented in Korea, albeit by a Chinese chef. We went to the restaurant that originated the recipe. It was pretty good, but Stephen and I both thought we liked the store bought packaged version where you have to cook the noodles (kind of like Ramen) and add a pre-made sauce. I guess we are not connoisseurs.

After that we finally went back to the subway station and headed home. Yay! As I feared, they tried to feed us again when we got home, but Stephen wasn’t hungry either, so I let him be whiny to his Dad about it so we didn’t have to eat a second dinner.

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

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