After a lazy “day off” on Sunday, it was time to crank it back up on Monday. To start, Laura-Eve and I woke up at 5:30am and hopped on a bus to Seoul to recreate one of my best mornings in the city. We arrived in Jongro around 6:30am, pre-dawn darkness hanging over the city, ready to do some exploring. In the still of the early morning we dove headfirst into the tiny alleyways dotting the area.
In the beating heart of one of the biggest cities in the world, silence is a rare thing. We found it and kept it as we walked through the narrow, cobbled streets between shuttered shops. Luminescent bulbs burst through the darkness in the distance, with a rare opening to the moonlit sky lighting the way. We walked in circles, in awe, and in calm intensity. No direction. No destination. There wasn’t much to say between us then, and there isn’t now. It’s not a place for talking. It’s a place for being, for thinking, for imagining. It’s a place for remembering why you love the city you’re leaving.
Through to the other side of that maze, we made our way to the nearby Gwangjang Market to indulge a Korean culinary delight, my photo of which remains one of my most well received. I found my toast lady, “the toast king,” and we sat down on stools to watch her make our breakfast. It’s just as good the second time, and even better when enjoyed with family.
The Taster’s Choice coffee from the toast cart wasn’t quite enough, so we went to Holly’s Coffee across the street for another warm drink: sweet potato latte. Delightful. Laura-Eve wanted to do some writing but didn’t have a pen or paper, so I ran down the street to the CU (convenience store) and got some for her. We sat and we drank and we watched the city wake up out the window.
After sitting a while, we hopped on the subway and headed for a market that Seunghyun had mentioned to us the other day. We were looking for a place to shop for tradition souvenirs, and Seunghyun mentioned the Seoul Folk Market in Dongdaemun. We arrived around 9am, and immediately upon opening the door, a guy ran up behind me, saying “it’s closed!” Apparently the market opened at 10am. Disappointed, we tried to figure out where to go next. I quickly remembered another market I had been to that was about a 15 minute walk away. With nothing else to do, we braved the cold and found our way to Gyeongdong Market.
This was the market experience I had wanted for Laura-Eve, though, I had hoped that would come at my favorite market, Moran Market, but we had missed market day due to stupid United Airlines. Gyeongdong Market, though, is a great one, and by far my favorite in the Seoul city limits. We immersed ourselves in the tea, herbs, fresh produce, and meats of the market. We walked around for a few hours and Laura-Eve was enthralled by all of it, taking all of the pictures seen below. She immediately knew that she wanted to buy food souvenirs from this place, and suggested that we return the morning of our flights to stock up on fresh goods. And so it was decided.
Amidst all of the revelry, it was here that she had her first encounter with something unsettling: dog meat. Dog meat is not exactly common in Korea, as it’s mostly eaten by the older generation – a generation of poverty, scraping to survive in the post-war era. But, walk around any of the non-touristy markets in Seoul and you’re sure to find some. This was quickly forgotten, though, in the excitement around us.
We watched a butcher training his apprentice in the art of slicing beef and another apprentice trying his hand at preparing eel. We talked to a tea vendor who spoke fantastic English. He explained to us about omija and gujicha (goji berry tea) and how the berries from China were much cheaper than local berries. Laura-Eve bought some of the Chinese omija berries from him. We walked past some fried food being prepared in the meat section, smelled the incredible scent produced, and returned for a closer look. We couldn’t tell what was being fried, so we asked. It was small fish fillets being fried in a butter sauce. The chef offered us each a piece to sample, and holy crap, it was fantastic.
Around 10:30am we left the market to warm up in a nearby coffee shop, as we were almost frozen. I suggested that we take a break from Korean food for lunch and head to my favorite Indian/Nepalese place in nearby Dongdaemun. But first, I wanted to show Laura-Eve a spectacular clothing market: Pyounghwa Clothing Market. This place is incredible. It is one narrow, long, three story building that stretches for about five city blocks, stuffed to capacity with clothing vendors of all kinds. Inside the building there are two hallways that run the length of the building, with small vendors on all sides selling the most colorful of fabrics. I came here once to shop for pants and ended up dropping trou in the middle of these hallways to try some on, as there are no dressing rooms. I don’t think people usually try stuff on here, but the lady vendors didn’t seem to care.
A brief walk through this place and we headed up to Everest. No, not the mountain; the restaurant. There, we had the most delicious curry, naan, and rice. It was a nice break from the Korean smorgasbord that I had been bombarding upon my sister.
After lunch it was time for me to go back to Jeongja to begin my last week of teaching. Since we would have Wednesday off for Christmas, this would be my last day with my Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes, so I said goodbye to half of my students. I brought them cookies and they brought me joy, letting me take their pictures. It was a relaxed day in the classroom, which was good considering I was exhausted at this point. While I was working, Laura-Eve met up with her Houstonian friend Dane who happened to be traveling in Seoul for the week. You’ll have to ask her for the specifics of their adventures.
At night, I had a quiet dinner in my apartment, Laura-Eve returned around 11:30pm, and we shortly thereafter closed our eyes on our last Monday in Korea.