Thursday, December 31, 2015

Out and About

Well, maybe that headline isn't completely true. We had a quiet day on Tuesday. We went into Itaewon by foot for lunch at a ramen place. It was good to have our regular ID cards so we could walk just a few minutes and be out on the street (instead of driving all the way across the base to Gate No. 1 and taking a subway back to the area we want to get to).

The place was very small and when we arrived, there were no seats available. We waited (outside in the cold) and ended up at the counter right in front of the cook. The glass makes it a bit cloudy, but it was fun to watch him cooking and straining the noodles.

We got the basic pork and noodle ramen (Dan got the slightly more spicy one). It was beautifully presented and tasted delicious.

We also shared some fried dumplings/spring rolls (gyoza).

Wednesday morning we took the subway to Seoul Station, the main terminus for the airport train and transfers for several of the subway lines. There is a check-in area for Korean Air where we can get our boarding passes and turn in our bags. Then we'll take the high-speed train directly to the airport. It will be much better than fighting the traffic by car, and probably much quicker. It was good to do some exploring ahead of time and find out where everything is for when we leave Friday.

In the afternoon we headed off for the last of our Christmas gift experiences. We attended a musical show, "The Orchestra Pit." We took a taxi there. The traffic was heavy, as usual. The picture below doesn't look nearly as crowded as the streets actually were!

The lobby of the LG Arts Center had a coffee shop and a colorful sitting area.

The large poster was a favorite place for the Koreans to pose for a picture. We found out later that the lead character is one of the most well-known actors.

The stage set was very well done. There were 13 actors/singers--one conductor and 12 instrumentalists. It was all in Korean and of course we missed a lot of the jokes. But the overall story of the orchestra members and their interactions were familiar to all of us. The actors were all amazing singers and the music was very approachable. The real orchestra was behind and above the stage. At the beginning and end we could see them. Interestingly, their conductor was a young woman.

When we came out, it was raining, and we couldn't find a taxi stand. We decided to take the subway, which was a bit of an adventure. Anjali had a great phone app that showed which lines to take and when/where to transfer. We ended up back in Itaewon and had supper at The Food Trucks, a hot dog place with seating for about 12 people. This photo shows my New York dog (with crushed cheese Doritos on top!) and Dan's Cuban panini. The fries were called Quebec fries and had maple syrup on them. They were surprisingly good.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Monday Outing

The first thing we did on Monday was head for Camp Kim, where we could get our passes for going on and off the base. Because we arrived here the evening before the 4-day Christmas holiday, we had to always enter by the main gate, turn in our driver's licenses and get a temporary pass. The temporary pass is only good for 24 hours, so we had to be sure to leave the base and come back in every day. We went out a lot, so it wasn't a problem, but we couldn't go in or out the gate that is only a 5-minute walk from the house. It was a quick and easy process, as Anjali had already filled out the paperwork and had copies of our passports. All we had to do was sit for a photo and have our index fingers scanned for prints.

After I posted my DMZ blog, I remembered to consult the notes I took (blame jet lag!) and there were a few very interesting things that I forgot to note. First, as we traveled out of the city, I saw acres and acres of greenhouses (or perhaps cold frames, they seemed a little less substantial than true greenhouses). Since the city has 10,000,000 residents, the vegetables have to come from somewhere! Another thing was the wildlife. Since the DMZ has been there for over 50 years now, wildlife has flourished. As we drove along, I saw many groups of birds, especially water birds. Once I saw a flock of cranes. We went by too quickly to determine if they were Siberian cranes or a more common type (my mother would have known!). And as we drove home, we were on the side of the bus that faced the DMZ itself. It was a bit chilling to see the frequent guard posts and floodlights that were attached to the razor-wire fence. The guard posts were mostly unmanned and most faced the wide river.

Back to Monday! After we got our passes, we were able to head out for some city touring. We walked the five minutes to the nearest subway station and took the train with one transfer to the Insadong area. It is known especially for arts and crafts, as well as antiques. We browsed around and stopped at a mall for lunch. This was our first traditional Korean meal and was very enjoyable. We started with a mug of warm, light green tea that was automatically delivered. We ordered bibimbop, a common dish. It means mix-mix-bowl and was first a creative way to use leftovers. The accompaniments arrived first: salad, kimchi (upper right), onions and mushrooms, and two things on the left. The lower one was cabbage, but we never figured out what the upper left one was!

The bibimbop arrived in a very hot pottery bowl on a plate. It was quite beautiful. The rice is in the bottom and various things are on top (this dish is different almost anywhere you find it). A raw egg is in the center. Immediately you stir it around thoroughly to combine the ingredients and cook the egg.

Courtesy Anjali Lind
After stirring it looks like this:

At the end of the meal, we were brought some cold plum juice, delicious! After lunch, I took the opportunity to use the restroom. I found the instructions inside the stall enlightening. Most places here do not want you to put toilet paper in the toilet, as the plumbing systems don't handle it very well. And I do not stand on the toilet!

We walked around the outdoor mall, which was cleverly designed with a sloping floor so moving from one level to the next wasn't even noticeable. The shops had a wide variety of items, mostly things you would use as gifts. Each shop was very small. 

The weather was very cold and we did a lot of walking. We stopped by by a coffee shop where they grind the beans for each cup. It was fun watching the barista. She had a tall thermometer and poured the hot water between two pitchers until it was the exact temperature. It was a slow drip and the coffee drinkers said it was excellent.

As usual, I had tea; this time chamomile-mint blend in a beautiful cup.

We took the subway back to Itaewon, the area closest to where we were staying. We stopped by Anjali and Domingos' favorite snack place, a waffle shop. They had many varieties, some filled with ice cream. The top two are Nutella and Oreas, the bottom two are Nutella and bananas. All delicious and filling!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

DMZ Tour

Today we took a guided tour of the DMZ, the 2.5-mile wide zone that separates North and South Korea. It was extremely interesting and I learned a lot (previously most of what I knew about the Korean War was from watching M*A*S*H).

Our USO-sponsored bus tour left Seoul and we drove an hour north to the DMZ.  (By the way, if you are interested in the subject, the Wikipedia article has quite a good summary.)

Our first stop was the major visitor center, which had a museum display, a film, and the entrance to the third tunnel.

In 1974, the South Koreans discovered an invasion tunnel under the DMZ that the North Koreans built. Between then and 1990, three more tunnels were discovered. We went into the third tunnel, but we were not allowed to take photographs. The entrance was a gently sloping tunnel of 350 meters. At the bottom you could see the end of the invasion tunnel.

Museum diorama of building the tunnel
Sculpture showing the attempt to put the two halves of the country back together
Our next stop was an observation site where we could look over the border into North Korea. Unfortunately, there was a good bit of air pollution, so our view wasn't that great.

We visited the Gyeongui railway station where it is possible to take the train from South to North. The roofline symbolizes the joining of the two countries.

There were several art displays inside. It is a large hall and many peace conferences have been held there. One of the items on display was this piano strung with barbed wire.

There was a large park we visited next. But it was a very cold day and we didn't have much time to tour around. I'm sure it would be interesting to see more if the weather was cooperative. This memorial is a shrine where South Koreans can come and pray for their relatives in the North.

As we drove out of the DMZ, we could see this bridge that connects the two countries. I'm not sure there is any traffic allowed on it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Korea for Christmas

We left home on Monday evening, spending the night in a motel in Michigan City. We caught the 6:20 bus for O'Hare. Everything went smoothly on our flight, which crossed the International Date Line. We left O'Hare at 11:30 AM Tuesday, Dec. 22, and arrived at Incheon at 4:30 PM Wednesday, Dec. 23, after a 14-hour flight. We'll get our day back when we return in March.

It was wonderful to come out of immigration, baggage, and customs to see Anjali and Domingos there waiting for us. It was their first time driving off the base and it took us more than two hours to get to their home; the traffic was very heavy and making left turns here is very convoluted. Their townhouse is in one of the many neighborhoods on the army base. The main door is at the top of the stairs in the photo and they have two floors. Our bedroom is the top window right above the steps.

For Christmas Eve dinner, we had reservations at a Thai restaurant (a little ironic, as we are heading to Thailand soon, but we love Thai food any time!). We ordered two set menus for two, which included a total of eight main dishes, two different soups, three kinds of satay, and bananas in coconut milk for dessert.

Four of the eight main dishes -- all small, but enough for a taste of each.

Pot of green tea at the end.
Christmas day we spent quietly at home. We (but mostly Dan and Anjali) put together a jigsaw puzzle of Raphael's "School of Athens" painting. We had seen the puzzles in Rome but both bought one later.

On Boxing Day (today) we went to a large mall. The shopping was interesting and there were good sales on many clothing items, especially warm things for winter. We enjoyed looking around. We had lunch at a Vietnamese Pho restaurant, delicious.

The main event of the day was a 12:45 showing of Star Wars. As a Christmas gift, they had purchased "Gold Class" cinema tickets, which included a drink and the seating showed below. Full recliners! We decided this was definitely the way to see a movie!

Tomorrow we are touring the DMZ, so I hope to have some interesting photos.