January 10, 2003
Busy Friday

I couldn't wait to write about all the things we were doing today, but I didn't have a chance to get on the computer between activities. The little slip of paper in my pocket on which I was jotting down keywords to jog my memory rapidly filled up, and now if I try to write about everything in a detailed narrative, I'll have a novel. I'm too tired to write a novel, so here are the bullet points:

Slippery — The first thing that struck me when I stepped out of the car last night at the hotel was how slippery it was. After walking around a bit this morning, I've discovered that it wasn't just something on my shoe or the hotel driveway: there's a film of greasy city goo on everything, and it's easy to lose your footing.

Face Masks — I saw several people this morning wearing cloth facemasks that hook over the ears; Al speculated that perhaps they had colds, and I thought maybe they didn't want to breathe the air unfiltered. Al's cousin Sung Won told us we were both right. It's sort of like putting a scarf over your mouth when the air is cold.

Anthem Time — We stepped into the Lotte Department store to the sound of a booming anthem-like tune; the zillions of salespeople, most dressed alike (we weren't sure what the distinction was between the girls dressed in gray suits and those wearing chic outfits), stood at attention at their stations and bowed as we walked by. I felt like we'd been mistaken for royalty. We were a bit uncomfortable and wondered if we were doing something wrong, but there were several Koreans who were happily shopping away all around us. They seemingly took no notice of the spectacle, so we assumed we were OK.

One other word about Lotte and its numerous salespeople: I've learned that in Korea, if you touch anything, a salesperson or the shopkeeper will shoot to your side and ask you your size or straighten the thing you just touched. It's a little disconcerting for a determined browser like me.

Starbucks 3, Tully's 1 — I wasn't *too* surprised to see a Starbucks here (we saw three, actually), but I *was* surprised to see a Tully's. The ambassador's wife later told us, when we met her at the rehearsal dinner, that she cut the ribbon at the opening of the largest Starbucks in town (and I think the second largest in the world). That was the first one we'd seen: it's in an old bank building, and is four stories.

Delicious Lunch with Grandmother — Al's cousin Sung Won drove us around and showed us the city today, and he took us to the Hanil Chemical Company to meet with Al's grandmother and her son. (I think she's actually Al's dad's mother's best friend, but she has filled the role of grandmother in the family since Al was born.) Grandmother is 81 and still comes into the office, although I don't think she bears the title of CEO any longer. I was amazed at how tiny she was, but she was incredibly warm and sweet. She and Sung-jin took us to lunch at a Japanese restaurant, and the food was fabulous. Mashaseyo!

Kimchi Museum — After lunch we stopped into the COEX Mall under the Korea World Trade Center, where we saw an arrow on a directional sign pointing right for the "Kimchi Field Museum". "Is that a museum for kimchi?" asked Al. Sung Won didn't know, so we follwed the signs to see. It was indeed a museum for kimchi, so we paid the 3000 Won entry fee and had a look around. It was very informative and cute. I took a bunch of photos for my niece, who is doing a report on Korea for her second grade class in February.

Fancy Korean Rehearsal Dinner -> Firetrap Bar — The rehearsal dinner was at 7:30pm, and it was at perhaps the nicest Korean restaurant in Seoul: Sam-chung Got (sp?). The food was delicious (and edible, thanks to Savannah, who informed the waiters that I didn't eat meat). It was neat to have a traditional Korean meal while here, and I finally got my vegetarian pimimbap. :) From there we went back to the Embassy compound so people could change into casual clothes (Al and I just stayed in our rehearsal dinner duds), and then we walked to a bar in Insadong.

We entered through a shack door in a back alley, and had to duck to avoid hitting our heads on the uneven cardboard ceiling. Surprisingly, several people (including a few people in our party) were smoking; I say surprisingly, since this place would obviously go up in flames if a mere errant spark hit the ceiling. The waiters arrived with what looked like oversized metal dog dishes filled with an unfiltered rice wine; in each of these dog dishes floated a plastic cereal bowl. More cereal bowls were handed out to each of us, and plates of salted fish were placed in the middle of each table.

The wine looked like rice milk; it tasted like spoiled rice milk. Kinda OK on first sip, but the aftertaste was pretty icky. Most at our table used this as an incentive to take another sip. I had a few sips, then a couple sips of beer to wash the taste out, and then I stopped drinking. Likewise for Al.

That's about it for Friday's; it's now about 2 in the morning (Saturday!), so we're going to bed.

Posted by Lori at January 10, 2003 08:57 AM