I like adventure. I find that I am able to think most clearly when I am in the middle of a city I don’t know, in a country that is foreign to me, surrounded by people I have never met. Today I found myself standing on the corner of a busy intersection in downtown Seoul having just told my friends to drop me off because the kids were getting fussy and my friends needed to take them home for a nap. So there I was, umbrella in hand and Birkenstocks already soggy, ready for an adventure (it always seems to be raining when I have my best adventures).
When I have no plans and no ideas in mind, I usually find the most interesting things- it must have something to do with minimal expectations. I started walking in the opposite direction of the way I knew took me back to where I am staying. I passed a corner restaurant that made dumplings, and I made a mental note to return because it smelled amazing. I kept walking and when it felt right (I always adventure on the basis of impulse) I took a left hand turn down a side-street, made note of my surroundings, and continued on my way. I walked in the front door of teapot shop filled floor to ceiling with teapots of every make and color, and I walked out the side door onto another side street. When I looked right out of the shop I was surprised to find there was an outdoor market, exactly like what I had been wanting to visit while in Korea! Colorful umbrellas sheltered the vendors from the rainy day. Little old Korean men selling socks, fruit, and other things lined the small street, chattering and looking up with curious eyes. We bowed to each other as I walked past.
I bought a few Korean pears, which are my favorite. If you haven’t tried one, it’s like a pear and an apple combined in a juicy explosion of perfection. I continued through the nuts, the spices, the meat, and the fish- ohhh the fish. Dead fish, live fish, flat fish, long fish, puffy fish, shellfish, every single kind of fish. While they were amusing, their smells were not. I still stayed over the amount of time I probably should have for the odor-removing power of my homemade laundry detergent back home.
When I had my fill of the market I walked out and found a corner restaurant with Gimbap, the Korean version of Sushi. Of course I had to purchase when I learned it was only 1,200 Korean Won (Roughly $1). They rolled it up in tin-foil and I ate it while walking… fast food, anyone?? At this point I was soaking wet but most certainly content, so I half-hardheartedly decided to find my way home.
Just as soon as I started walking I got distracted again at the possibility of more adventure. I spotted a restaurant where everyone had to take their shoes off at the door. I had just eaten and half of my mind was telling me that I could eat at a similar restaurant later this week, but that would have totally violated my theory of, “If not now, when?”… so I went in.
I was led over to a table and sat on my mat on the floor. I quickly discovered that no one spoke English there, but after a quick game of charades involving myself, the waitress and the two young Korean women at the table next to me, I placed my order. While I waited I checked out the rest of the room and noticed the diversity in ages of everyone sitting in the small restaurant. There was a young couple in the corner with their eyes glued to their smart phones (that’s not just a US American thing) and a group of little old women chatting and laughing at the table opposite of me. In the corner of the restaurant a 20-something guy sat by himself reading a book on his phone, and of course there were my silly “friends” at the table next to me who left shortly after that, smiling to me as they left the room.
My food came quickly, but not before the manager came over and adjusted the fan so it was directly on me (I must have looked tired and lost). They unloaded seven different bowls of Kimchi, a traditional food of pickled vegetables, and my bowl of noodles. They must have cooked the soup right in that little black bowl because it came out to me still bubbling. The soup was incredible, just the right amount of flavor, salt, heat and substance. I struggled with the noodles in the bowl, they were a clear rice noodle that were very slippery. Once again, I accidentally dropped my metal chopsticks on the table, making a lot of noise in the quiet restaurant, but I had already made “eye-contact friends” with everyone in the room so they just smiled and giggled with me. I scraped the bowl to the very bottom.
When I finished my food I got up, said “Homsomnidad (thank you)” to the waitress and manager, bowed very low (a sign of respect, especially in the presence of elders) and told them in English how much I loved the food- I think they still got the point. I found my soggy Birkenstocks and set out onto the brick streets, under the dipping trees, looking for the next part of my adventure.