Thank you from Al-Maha

Yu Kyoung and I are officially married now. At the resort everyone refers to her as Mrs. Fife and it still makes me giggle just a bit because Mrs. Fife, in the rare times it was used, always referred to my mother! We are enjoying the beautiful desert resort of Al Maha. Unfortunately, we cannot share any photos with you because we’ve accidentally posted the data cable back to London with some other items. We did record this special thank you for our wedding guests, however.


BBQ and Fishing Trip with no Fishing

On Saturday we went to Zoe and Jono’s house for a nice and sunny BBQ without the sun. The garden was enclosed by a tumultuous brew of threatening weather that luckily couldn’t muster up the energy to follow through and actually ruin the day.

Early Sunday morning we woke up and caught the train to Brighton. Everyone was rather tired from their individual activities of the night before but we managed to lumber (or slumber) through it. The bad news was that the winds were high and the sea was too rough for our fishing trip. So we went to a chilli market and sampled chilli chocolate (yuck!), garlic marinated in chilli and olive oil (yum!) and some wine (sans chillis). We ended up spending the most time in the arcades on Brighton Pier. Here we wasted away our savings two pence at a time. Nobody managed to win anything this time but Yu Kyoung and I did improve our horse riding skills!

Temporary TVs in Seoul?

I noticed something when we were walking through Seoul station after booking our train tickets to Busan.  I thought it was just an oversight but then I kept seeing it over and over.  Everywhere we went had nice, brand new flatscreen televisions.  The world cup is a huge deal in Korea and so it wasn’t a surprise that everyone was showing it.  What did surprise me was the stickers that were left on most of them.  A sticker on the top right that said “XD System” was always left on the television.  I think that everyone left the stickers on so that they could return the televisions after the world cup was over.  Of course, Yu Kyoung disagrees with me but I’ll check to see if every single restaurant, pub and store we go into on our next visit still has the television.  And if they do, if anybody ever got around to removing the stickers!

Emart: Korean Asda

The title could just as well read Emart: Korean Walmart but since I’ve been living in the UK for over five years now Asda is more familiar to me than Walmart.  Of course, they are the same company in the end but that’s neither here nor there.  Emart is a department store that seems to have retained some of the ownership of where to place clothing.  These days you are forced to shop for clothes by brand instead of the infinitely more useful shopping by clothing style or by the type of event you plan on wearing it to.

Emart also has free samples.  I thought it would be quite rude not to sample local fare so we graciously accepted all the food that was offered to us.  This turned out to be quite a lot in variety and quantity!  We had soup and kimchi and drinks and even dessert!  In the end all I could say was “Bepola. Kaja.”  This translates into “I’m full. Let’s go.”

So we did.

Sugar Cookies and Spicy Chicken in Seoul

Staying up to watch a football match that ended at 06:00 doesn’t do much for settling your mind and body from the effects of jetlag. We didn’t wake up until 15:15 which I guess you could call sleeping in since it was just over 9 hours of rest! We went to Myungdon to do some shopping. I couldn’t help but think that my mom would love to shop here because of the variety of brands and clothing. I had a rough time adhering to my no-logo mantra while shopping in Korea. It took me the whole trip to find an unbranded shirt and when I did I bought four of them in different colours!

We bought a traditional sugar cookie with a shape etched into it. The game is that if you can break off the outer pieces of the cookie and keep the internal shape intact then you take it back and you get another one for free. I only clipped two edges from my star but those small mistakes were enough to keep me from my free cookie. This wasn’t really a problem since the overwhelming taste of sugar from the first one was lingering in my mouth even after a couple bottles of water. Maybe I’m too old to enjoy pure sugar treats anymore!

For lunch we met Jooyoung again for Myoung Don, a spicy chicken with noodles.  It was quite tasty.  We once again had the waitress ask whether or not I, as a non-Korean, could handle spicy food and had to explain to her that I could probably eat spicier food than she could.  Not that she believed that of course but it probably is true.  I’ll sweat like mad while I’m doing it but I’ll enjoy it all the time and I’ll pour on more hot sauce.

Korea Fighting! The Long Day in Seoul

There are twenty four hours in a day and we used almost all of them. Ignoring the jetlag, we set out for a full Sunday with the final activity of the day known: watch Korea versus France at 4am. We met 추영(Jooyoung in Latin characters) and after a warm exchange of greetings we proceeded to 경복궁 or Kyung Bok Palace.

One of four surviving palaces in Seoul, it was in active use by the Royal Family until 1897. Sadly, successive fires (a by-product of under floor, fire-based heating in wooden buildings I’m sure) and purposeful destruction by Japanese invaders in the early 1900s left a small fraction of the buildings intact. What is here has either been restored or re-built.

The tour took about thirty-five minutes and gave absolutely no more information than was available by reading the signs posted by every place our guide stopped. I would recommend a self-tour to anyone. The changing of the guard was dull, as any changing of the guard is, but lightenned up by the American-English tranlator’s insistence on saying duty with two D’s. This resulted in hilarious comments such as “The new guards are now ready for doody.”

We had lunch at 치아야기 (Chee-ah-yah-gee) which specialises in rice cooked in bamboo. Another bamboo treat was a bamboo alcohol served in a bamboo jug. It was here that 청현 (Helen is her English name) joined us.

Let’s pause to catch up on our new characters. Yooyoung used to work with YuKyoung at Rexo. He came back to Korea while his work permit was being applied for by Rexo. Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he was turned down so Rexo lost a good employee and we lost a good friend. Well, lost is the wrong phrase – maybe ‘were separated from’ is a better one.

Helen knows us through Royal Holloway. We met through friends of friends and after that she ended up staying at our house for a while before she returned to Korea to continue with her Master’s degree.

Our fourstrong party finished lunch and debated where to go next. In the end we settled on a traditional tea house. It was hot and stuffy when we got there so we opted to do a swift tour of their tea museum and then head for somewhere else. Our next stop ended up being 찬단궁 (Changdeokgong Palace).

When you visit Seoul, just see one palace. This was just like the last one but with a nice forbidden garden. So, I guess I’m recommending it over Kyung Bok Palace. the guide was just as useless (more useless actually) and we didn’t learn much more as teven the basic history of Korea was repeated verbatim from the other tour.
Helen bought a red Korean football shirt to get in the spirit of the night as we left the palace. An extremely short taxi ride took us to the Nanta theatre. We were able to buy reduced price tickets because we were supporting the Korean team by wearing red shirts (Helen’s motivation wasn’t entirely in the spirit of the night after all!). Nanta is good for a non-Korean speaking visitor to Korea. It was written by a Korean and it has very little speaking because it is mostly expressed through gestures and body language. Lots of activity, little talking and a great percussion soundtrack – what else could you ask for?

We were quite hungry after the show so we went to 논두렁 (Noondorung) for some bibimbap. Once again, Korea comes through for a tasty and healthy meal.
Here is where most people’s days would have ended but we were just getting started. Your storyteller needs a break from writing though so the day will be split into two posts. Coming up: batting cages, a hard to find tavern and large screens broadcasting the football to the streets crammed with Korean supporters.

Until then…

My First Night in Seoul

First off, I’m late but I’ll say it anyway – Happy Father’s Day dad!!

There were two food options on the Korean Airlines flight: Western and Korean. I was already in the holiday spirit so I opted for Korean food for supper. Since making that decision I can say without a doubt that airline food is airline food. Bad Korean happens to be better than bad pizza or chicken with rice but it’s still airline food at the end of the day!

We arrived in Seoul at 16:30 (8:30 BST) rather bleary-eyed but in pretty good shape overall. I say we arrived in Seoul but what really happened was landed in a nearby town called Incheon – a mere hour bus ride away. I’ve already complained about air travel many times including here, here and here so I won’t go into it in detail once again but I will say that airlines should be required to state travel times from the airport to the city centre in addition to the flight times. This would open a lot of people’s eyes to the real cost of air travel. At 19:00, yes that is two and a half hours after we landed, we left the hotel and start our holiday in earnest.

I only took one term of Korean language classes but it really makes a difference in my comfort level. I had alwasy believed that travelling to an Asian country would be a disorientating and difficult experience because you couldn’t do basic things like read signs and notice boards. Well, I still haven’t tested my theory because I can read most signs and notice boards and ask for basic things! Also, at least in Seoul, most people speak at least a little English so I can get by quite nicely. Having Yu Kyoung to back me up when I fail helps a bit too, I’m sure.

Around the corner from the hotel, I stepped into an exaggerated version of New Malden. We walked for a while until we found a suitably busy restaurant, took off our shoes and took a seat on the floor for our first meal in Korea. We had beef bulgogi and some soup then pork with old kimchi. The sourness of the old kimchi matched the pork belly perfectly. For those who don’t know, many meals in Korea are cooked at your table which lets you eat at your own pace and have piping hot food on demand – perfect!

After the meal we found a bar named Zuzu. It was relatively empty but the staff was very friendly and we got to see a dazzling display of spirit bottle spinning and fire breathing by the bar staff. It was quite impressive. Overall, it was a great start to the trip.