A little bit of Seoul
Since I hadn’t gotten to bed until after 7 a.m., I woke up at about 1:30 in the afternoon and decided to explore the city. I was too late for the half-day city tours, so I found my own way to the Namdaemun Market, an enormous open-air market in downtown Seoul. It was a relatively short walk, but I got a bit of a sense of the city on the way — very modern, very high-tech, very clean and very prosperous; I was surprised at how modern Ulaanbaatar was from the rest of Mongolia, but Seoul is something else altogether. We’re staying at the Ramada Hotel and Suites, and that was culture shock on its own — not only does my ultra-modern room have a stove, fridge and washer-dryer, but there seem to be high-tech gizmos for just about everything, including for regulating the temperature of the water in the shower!
The market was more traditionally Korean, and it was hive of activity: vendors selling everything from shoes to dresses to ginseng to pictures of Korean rock idols. And of course, there was food — lots and lots and lots of it. I hadn’t eaten either breakfast or lunch, so I decided to try out some of the street food the vendors were selling. The first thing I tried I later found out was fake crab (kamaboko) on a stick surrounded by some kind of soft chewy batter (they were also sellling something similar with sausage instead of crab). It set me back a grand total of 2,000 won (just under $2) and was absolutely delicious. I would have eaten another one, but I had seen a stall selling japchae, those wonderful bean-thread noodles I had eaten many times in Korean restaurants in Ottawa. This japchae was superb –a heaping plate of stirfried noodles with little bits of oriental vegetables and some kind of meat (probably pork, I think). The big difference is that while japchae at home is a bit bland, this japchae was cooked with a spicy chili sauce which gave it a real kick. I polished off my meal with a juicy piece of honeydew melon, sold on a stick for easier eating. It was wonderful to see so much fresh fruit after all that tinned fruit salad in Mongolia!
There were lots of vendors selling very nice shoes at reasonable prices, but I restrained myself because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything else into my suitcase. So after a good tour of the market, I started walking on the main streets and found myself at Seoul Station – a major railway station and main terminus for the city’s extensive subway system. Above the station is — not surprisingly — a shopping mall, including an enormous department store. Like virtually everying else in Seoul, the stores were ultra-modern and well-organized; I discovered a bookstore within the mall and my eyes quickly landed upon a games section that included a copy of Settlers of Catan in Korean. I would have bought it, but once again, I would have had problems getting it home.
I only wish I had a little more time to explore this city. Meetings tomorrow — then heading for home on Tuesday.