March 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm (Photographs)
March 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm (Photographs)
March 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm (Photographs)
Our first evening back in Korea started with another Korean BBQ, this time at a very popular all-you-can-eat place called Dino Meat. To prevent people from taking more than they can handle, the restaurant charges en extra fee if you leave leftovers (aside from a few bites). Here’s Ann busily working again:
You can see all the side dishes that are served and, as a standard practice, there is no tipping in Korea. So the price posted is what you pay, end of story. The only problem is trying to pay as Korean tradition means the host pays for everyone, and Anne is one tough cookie. She kept saying, “When we come to Canada, you can pay for me” and wouldn’t let us pay until we would either trick her by paying before she noticed or by enlisting Iain’s help.
After dinner we went to one of Iain’s spots where he meets with friends on Friday nights. On our way, we got a taste of what Incheon looks like at night. Advertisements tend to be on thin vertical signs all the way up buildings. Most streets are very, very narrow.
In Korean bars, you usually buy the liquor by the bottle and share with people at your table. I don’t drink hard liquor, but the bartender was nice enough to make me and Anne a drink of vodka-cranberry. It was either that or pay $50 for a bottle of cheap wine. Bars also always serve snacks as it’s considered unhealthy to drink on an empty stomach; we had a bowl of popcorn.
As in many bars, the techno music was deafening, so you had to yell across the table to be heard. Not my thing. Here’s a neon ad on the wall (in English) for tequila. I’m guessing this sign can be seen in some North American bars too.
By far, the most popular drink in Korea is Soju,
a fermented rice beverage. Though traditionally made from rice, most major brands supplement or even replace the rice with other starches such as potato, wheat, barley, sweet potato, or tapioca (Wikipedia) [Updated Mar 23]. It is similar to vodka but with 25% alcohol.
In Korea, going out is a three-step process. First the group decides where they’re going to eat (restaurants usually specialize in one or two dishes, so you decide what you want first, and that narrows the choice in restaurants), then it’s kareoke or some other bar, then it’s a dance place. Oh, and according to Iain, bars close when the last customer leaves. And if that’s not enough, once out of the bar, you can go to what’s called a Soju Tent. These are bright orange tents erected at night for the sole purpose of drinking Soju (and eating). They stay open until 5-6am, when the subway system starts running again. I wonder where the AA groups meet. Here’s a blurry picture of a soju tent.
March 20, 2011 at 4:52 pm (Photographs)
Nanzen-ji is a Buddhist Temple established in 1291 that was within walking distance of our hotel. Upon entering the grounds, you see a great gate called The Sanmon. Apparently it is one of the three largest gates in Japan.
Even at this time of year before everything is in bloom, the gardens are beautiful:
There are many rooms throughout that you can peek into. There are paintings on sliding panels (fusuma) decorated in Japanese landscapes and tigers. Visitors are not allowed to take photos of inside these rooms, but here is what the outside looks like:
There were several Zen gardens also:
And more photos around the temple grounds:
This wooded path seemed to lead up the mountain.
With only one full day in Kyoto, we didn’t have the time to visit everything we wanted, including the famous bamboo groves at the far west end of the city. But we did come across a smaller one:
To finish our evening, we walked along the main street where our hotel was located (The Westin Miyako Kyoto), and we came across this quaint little restaurant: Asuka. It had a Lonely Planet review displayed in the window, so we decided to give it a try.
Like in Korea, this restaurant had low tables and square cushions to sit on.
Dave showed his little note written in Japanese script mentioning his sesame allergy, and the two mamasans who seemed to run the place had no problem with it. We both enjoyed a delicious meal.
And this is the view that greeted us outside our bedroom window.
March 20, 2011 at 2:42 am (Jumbled Jabbering)
Before heading to Japan, we were understandably apprehensive. We had booked our flights and hotels before the disaster struck, and despite the fact that Kyoto hadn’t been directly affected, the whole country was in crisis. We decided to wait things out, and once in Korea, we made necessary phone calls and were reassured that all was well in Kyoto. Actually, once there, one would never have known what was going on in the north aside from the news casts.
At our hotel, there were events happening in the ballrooms which afforded us a glimpse of beautiful Japanese women dressed in traditional garb. After asking to take her photo, she asked the same of us.
These three young ladies were more than happy to pose for a photo:
Every evening we saw many women dressed up like this. It was stunning.
Walking through the streets of Kyoto, there are temples and shrines absolutely everywhere. In fact, it feels like every block has a couple of shrines and or temples. This one we found as we were exploring the Nishiki Market which I’ll write about later.
March 19, 2011 at 6:05 pm (Jumbled Jabbering)
The first night in Korea, Iain (Dave’s brother) and Anne (his partner) brought us out for a Korean BBQ. Again, as in most Korean restaurants, the tables are low and we sit on flat square cushions on the floor. You remove your shoes at the door, so the floors are squeaky clean. You are always served a wet towelette to start, and then lots and lots of accompaniements like kimchi, greens, garlic slices, mushrooms, and other.
Anne did all the work for us, and even with his sesame allergy, Dave was able to join in the feast as you have much control over the food. You decide on the cut, whether it’s marinated, and what you put on it. It put a smile on his face.
At the entrance, there is a refrigerated display of different meat cuts to choose from. After a bit of browning, you pick up the slab of meat with tongs and cut it into smaller, bite-sized pieces using scissors, a required utensil in all kitchens. After cooking, you can either eat it as is, or season it with salt, wrapped in a sesame or lettuce leaf, topped with kimchi, sprouts, garlic, or any other condiment you want.
Korean utensils are a pair of metal chopsticks and a long-handled soup spoon. The metal chopsticks take a little getting used to as they don’t have the grip that wooden ones have, but with a little practice (and thank god for the spoon), we managed very well.
March 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm (Photographs)
On our first day in Korea, we were greeted with what’s called a Civil Defense Drill. This drill used to be carried out monthly, but now it happens twice a year. All traffic stops for about 20 minutes, and people prepare for a possible air-raid or other threat.
That afternoon, we went to a quaint little coffee shop just around the corner that would fit right in in Whitehorse. The owner has different plants and trees all over the shop, some of which are only found in Korea.
And they served my favourite: Caramel Macchiato.
March 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm (Photographs)
You think losing one hour is bad when switching to Daylight Saving Time? Try a whole day. That’s what happened to us since we had to cross the international date line to get to Korea. Eighteen hours after leaving home, we found ourselves touching down in Seoul, South Korea. We took the subway line out of the airport, and I was amazed to see an electronic map above each door showing the progress we were making on the way. TTC? Hello? Can you hear me?
After catching up on some sorely missed sleep, we headed for a walk up a hill to view the city of Incheon from above. We only went a short way, but the walking trails go all over this pine forest on top of hills.
It is cool and dry at this time of year, so there’s a lot of brown. Apparently it’s quite beautiful after they receive some rain. I still thought these pine trees were pretty.
There are many, many apartment complexes, I guess, like in any big city. Between the major streets, however, there is a system of very narrow streets (almost like back alleys). It’s easy to get lost in this maze, but it’s fun exploring.
North Americans can learn a great deal from Koreans. For instance, South Koreans put a lot of emphasis on an active lifestyle. They have gym equipment scattered all over in public places and free to use. One woman even whipped out her skipping rope as we were taking a leisurely stroll through a park.
My brother-in-law brought us for lunch in a traditional Korean establishment. This restaurant specializes in noodle soups. Notice how the tables are low and everyone sits on the floor to eat their meal.
We had the clam noodle soup with an order of dumplings. It was delicious!