Exploring Incheon

>> Saturday, July 28, 2012

Our university was located in Incheon, just outside of Seoul. Before heading into Seoul, we took a day to explore Incheon and get our first taste of Korea.  There's something special about walking the back roads and peeping into markets that only local people use; I get a real flavor of what life is really like.  Here's what we found in Incheon.

Incheon is a smaller city of 2.6 million or so. Here's a street we wandered through.  I love how the cars are parked double in the center of the road.  

 On almost every little street, there was a little garden shop.  In the market we visited, we found these beautiful pitcher plants.

We went down to find a restroom in the subway and look what we found: Ping Pong! In the subway station! These folks were serious about their ping pong, and they were seriously good. If you've never seen old people play ping pong in Asia, then you probably think it's a slow game and wonder why people bother.  Once you've been schooled by an 80-year old ping pong master, you will stop whatever you are doing to watch with respect.

Our journey continued with a trip down a market street.  It was very reminiscent of China.  Lots of little mom and pop shops with merchandise specializing in one area or another.  The store specialized in kitchen and bath supplies.  I was tempted to buy the toilet seat cover on the top.  We are remodeling, after all.

The thing I noticed about these little shops is that the goods are China quality but U.S. prices. The worst of both worlds!  Time after time we were shocked at the price of goods in Korea.  You can find good quality merchandise, but when you do, expect to pay exorbitant prices for it.  A pair of pants that would be $15-20 on sale in the U.S. would go for the equivalent of $100.  Yikes!  Bargaining was different, too.  There wasn't a lot of wiggle room in South Korea.  They pretty much gave a fair starting out price at the beginning. I felt like people were just trying to make a living, not suck me dry.  I nice change from China.  Too bad I'm not in the position to support all the independent businesses in South Korea. Needless to say, I didn't feel the need to shop much.

 After a while of wandering, we finally found a little local market with great treasures.

Assorted dried goods

Fish head photography, courtesy of Sam

High-priced veggies (Think $10 - 20 for a small watermelon) and more dried goods

Crab marinated in some sort of sauce.  Looks unappetizing, but I bet it was good.

Traditional Korean Hanbok

Oh the difference and 'e' can make: glutinous/gluten-ous

Oh! And I got so tired of/from walking up hills and steps. So many to climb.  This is the set up stairs up our subway.  The literal light at the end of the tunnel beckoned.  

We stopped at a vegetable stand on our way home, but that's a blog post for another day. 



The Restaurant

>> Sunday, July 22, 2012

This was my first big trip being gluten free.  I was anxious, to say the least.  I didn't know the language and it seemed like everything had either soy sauce or spicy gochoojang sauce, both of which are gluten-ous. Yikes! I imagined my nights with my arms clasped around my belly, rolling in pain on the bed. 

Previous to our arrival, however, I did a little research to find out about eating gluten free in South Korea.  Luckily, there are a few dishes (around 5 or so that are very common) that are naturally gluten free.  So, cross-contamination aside, at least I would have something to eat.

The first day, our hosts took us to a little restaurant just at the base of the hill where the university was located.  (Remind me to tell you about that dreaded hill someday!)We ate there and thought it was great.  The next day we went to another place and asked if they had any of the gluten free dishes.  No luck.  We went to another place and asked again.  No luck.  After the fourth or fifth place, we decided to go back to the place we ate the day before.  We ate there almost every weekday that we went out touring.

After a little while, I was able to communicate that I couldn't have soy or gochoojang sauce.  They were very accommodating.  They even took my gluten free soy sauce, kept it in their refrigerator, and cooked my meals with it.  I think they deserve a special spot in heaven for that. I am so thankful for them!

We actually became quite friendly with them.  They were kind and skilled and we saw them almost every day.  The first week we were there, the mother/mother-in-law was there.  (She's on Sam's right.) After that, it was just the husband and wife.

Sam's first bit of kimchee was a big one ...
I couldn't resist making this pic extra large because I think this kid is SO. DARN. CUTE.

 Just for future reference, kimchee is very spicy ...

Trying to laugh through the spicy heat and reaching for the cold water.

The husband had a translation app so we could communicate a little.

Kimbap! Yum!


5 Star Hotel -- or Not

 Travel is one of the great blessings of the academic life.  However, it isn't always at deluxe accommodations.  The university we were working at provided a studio apartment for us.  It wasn't bad; it wasn't great.  Here's where we lived.

This is the front of our dorm where we stayed.

Our nice, firm bed--just like we like it. (No, really!)

The bathroom -- loved the shower.

Sam's bed was a few of those thick, quilt-type things we've seen people in Asia use as mattress pads. On the floor, of course.

The very best thing about our living arrangements was free, daily access to the clay tennis courts and driving range.  We didn't always take the time to go, but when we had time, it was fabulous.


Seoul Sister, South Korea 2012

Travel is my passion.  Nothing makes me happier than traveling with my family on a subway to someplace beautiful/exciting/new in some big city.  All the better if it includes a long plane ride, jet lag, and a new-to-me language.

This past month, our little family had the opportunity to go to Seoul, South Korea for 3.5 weeks.  Matt and I went there to prep students who will be attending our university. We taught in the mornings and then headed out to explore in the afternoon and evening.

We got lots of great pictures.  I think the favorite family photo this time is of all of us standing in the joint security area building of the North/South Korea demilitarized zone (DMZ). Technically we are in North Korea.  If we would have stepped out of the building, there was a good chance of us being shot.  We kept safely inside.

The soldier is real, even though he looked like wax and stood stark still.  We're technically in North Korea.

  Here's the thing, though.  Travel is exhausting and not-at-all-glamorous in reality.  What that cool picture doesn't say is that we woke up too early and left by 7:00 a.m. in the POURING rain so that we could travel an hour and fifteen minutes, so that we could catch a tour bus and ride another hour and fifteen minutes, so that we could arrive at the DMZ in what was now the partial rain alternating with the too-cold-air-conditioned bus. We were cautioned and warned of danger and told when we could and couldn't take pictures. Lots of the pictures didn't turn out because of the rain. We even questioned all the tight security because there were myriad tourists and the whole thing seemed like a little bit of a tourist trap at times.  Matt got yelled at by a South Korean soldier because when we were on the steps of the South Korean side, facing the North Korean side because he didn't hear the announcement to not take pictures of the South Korean side.  Then the quick entry into the JSA, the quick exit. We were in the actual cool part for maybe 5 minutes.

It was a long day, but I loved it. We were tired and dirty.  My makeup had run and my hair had frizzed out by the end of the day.  I wore dorky tennis shoes. But there is something about that 5 minutes that made the whole day, the whole journey worth it.  I would do it all again. On days like this I can't stop smiling. My world is complete.

So, here is the Simmons family Seoul travel log.  Lots of posts and pics coming up, all chronicling our journey. Some great pics, some not-so-great pics, all of them are pure joy for my heart.

Travel is bliss.


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