Sunday, October 14, 2007

Traffic Day

Well, Saturday morning started out well enough. I ate some left over shrimp fried rice for breakfast, and headed out to the Seoul Train Station to pick up KA and his wife MA. KA is a visiting professor from America teaching in a University down in Daegu. They arrived on time at 10:17am on the KTX bullet train. This was my first trip to the Seoul Station, and it was a really nice place. It had the layout of an efficient airport, without all the hassle of security screening stations. I could walk to the arriving track number and look out the window and see the train arrive below. We proceeded to the same hotel as TSP are staying, where they checked in.

One little surprise when we were checking them in. One of the other clerks at the front desk looked familiar to me, and finally she asked me "do you remember me?" I had to think about 2 minutes, but finally I remembered that she was the clerk at the Hotel Nostalgia where John and I used to live before we had this apartment! Later CH met her and remembered her also.

We gave everyone a few minutes to get ready, then had a coffee down at the lobby where TSP and KA/MA got a chance to meet each other. It turns out that TSF and KA both had known a few of the same people in their professional past, and everyone seemed to get along very well. Which is good, because next we crammed all of us into the car and headed to Itaewon. Poor old CH had to sit in the rear-facing car seat. As is often the case in Seoul, we encountered a lot of traffic on the way, and it took over an hour to get there. Once we arrived, The Stumbler made a small mistake looking for a parking place, and we ended up driving around for about 10 minutes in some of the smallest back alley streets I have ever seen! These were up and down VERY STEEP hills, and a few places we could barely squeeze through. There were lots of screams from my passengers, but when we were back on normal streets again, everyone said it was a great thrill!

Finally arriving at the parking lot, we were so hungry we decided to eat lunch first. We went to Gecko's Garden, a place that is famous in Itaewon, but where I have never eaten.

This was a very pleasant place. We ate upstairs on the "terrace" dining area. It had an open-air, outdoors feel, but it was really more like a greenhouse. We ate from the lunch menu, and everyone seemed to really enjoy the food. I was really surprised to see TSF had ordered seafood pasta, which comes will all sorts of seafood in the shells. He ate every last bite, and even finished up the last little bit by adding bread pieces to the broth! The crowded and shopping atmosphere of Itaewon does not really appeal to me, but I've heard repeatedly in the past couple of months that a number of good "western" restaurants are available there - for example, Mexican and Italian to name a couple. I'll have to keep this in mind when I have the occassional craving for some non-Korean food.

After eating, we headed out to the streets of Itaewon. The first place we went was the "Paris Tailor", a place that came recommended to me by a Canadian friend. TSF was fitted for a complete suit, and I was fitted for some shirts. We'll be going back this week to pick up the results. We'll see how it works out. I've never done anything like this before, so I have no idea what to expect.

Here are some random photos that TSF and I took with our camera.

Well, we finally met back after shopping to again stuff ourselves into the car for the trip to the restaurant. I had CH make a reservation at this place called the Naruter restaurant (don't ask me what that means - I don't even know if this is a Korean or Western word). I had eaten there once before, and it was a very comfortable experience. They are located at the foot of a bridge over the Han River, and have an outdoor dining deck with a live musician and an outstanding view. CH felt confident that on the way we would not experience any heavy traffic. WRONG! We found ourselves in stop-and-go traffic for almost an hour. At one point, we came to a stop, and I saw all the cars ahead of us were stopped. I don't mean just pausing in traffic - I mean really STOPPED. People were getting out of their cars, and in some cases setting up chairs and blankets on the roadside. This was a major highway, not a small side street.

We began to notice large crowds of people everywhere. There was a pedestrian overpass, which was crammed full of people. We were trying to figure out why there were so many people, when suddenly

As we crawled along the North side of the Han River, we were treated to the most spectacular fireworks show I have seen in a long time! Suddenly my passengers were no longer complaining about the slow traffic. Even though it took about 1-1/2 hours to get to the restaurant, we were well entertained along the way.

When we arrived, we were taken to our table along the edge of the deck (did I say we had a great view?) At first, I was worried because it was a little bit chilly. But soon this was no problem, because the heat from the charcoal not only cooked the meat but warmed us up, too. We ordered three kinds of beef for everyone to try. First was 한우 꽃등심, which I believe would be roughly translated as well marbled sirloin steak from a Korean cow. Although I have had better, this was really good.

The second course of beef was called 한우 주물럭, or Ju-mul-leok. I believe these are slices of tenderized sirloin, again from a Korean cow. I must say that whatever they used to "tenderize" the meat was absolutely delicious! We could see bits of garlic on the surface of the meat before cooking. Almost like a marinade. This was probably the best of the three courses.

Finally, we fnished with 양념 갈비, or Yangnyeom Galbi. This is marinated bone-in ribs. The meat is marinated in a secret sauce, usually for many hours beforehand. Then you take it out of the pot and cook it on the grill. This to was absolutely delicious.

All in all, we had a great day. I was worried about so much time stuck in traffic, but neither TSP nor KA/MA seemed to mind. Nobody complained about the traffic, and everyone seemed to really enjoy their time today. And a most special thanks to my friend CH for being our escort all day, and most especially for riding in the backwards child's seat all day! He was a real trooper, and I don't think he got car sick even once.

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