Local Markets in Korea: Suwon, not too far from Seoul (depending on traffic!) and Inheon market, close to Seoul National University.
Traveling to another part of one’s own country or to another country is a wonderful way to learn about the place, the people, the culture, the history and the cuisine—all the things that go to make up what’s special, unique or different about it, what defines its character.
One of our favorite activities anywhere (even at home) is to visit the local market. They may be daily or weekly, indoors or outdoors, but are always brimming with activity. It’s a lot of fun to wander around and see what kinds of fresh produce the market has, what kinds of breads, cheeses, meats, fish, and flowers. Often there will be stalls with local cooked foods too, to try. Depending on the country, we may find all kinds of olives and olive oils, or different herbs and spices. It’s always a flavorful, colorful, cheerful event.
At Suwon market and at Inheon Market, close to Seoul National University, I was fascinated most of all with all the really different items that seem very “exotic” to westerners, foods that we don’t typically find in the USA or at most European markets, like silkworms.
Some things I don’t recognize at all and can’t even guess what they are. Others I’m pretty sure that I’m not brave enough to try! For example, the red-hot spicy foods, cooked silkworms for sale, all kinds of seaweed and various roots, fungi and herbs for Oriental-style medicine and health. Many counties in the east prize traditional medicine—it’s been around for hundreds of years, so who am I to say it doesn’t work?
Here are just a few photos we took of those different culinary and herbal delights, a big part of Korean culture I believe.
These are some of my notes and thoughts after our fist visit to Korea. I never did get to putting them on the blog, but will do so now, as the sentiments have not changed after our subsequent visits.
South Korea is a small country that would fit into Illinois. And yet, it’s a land of great contrasts, an extraordinary mix that goes into making the country what it is. The provinces outside of Seoul are very varied: with rivers and rice paddies; shrines and mountain scenery; timeless temples; mushrooming modern apartment cities; neon and bamboo; a blend of old and new, modern and traditional.
It has a long convoluted coastline with many islands on three sides; coastal plains devoted largely to agriculture (rice, barley, ginseng, multiple vegetables in tunnels, huge cattle barns); and mountains, lots of mountains—about 70% of the country is mountainous. That doesn’t leave much land for human habitation, so high-rise cities pop up in open spaces. You’ll emerge from a tunnel on the highway and suddenly in front of you there’ll be a forest of tall apartment buildings. Many are relatively new cities, we’re told, and many are satellite cities for other mega cities, like Seoul or Busan.
It’s a mix of old and ultra-modern—small shops with curving tiles roofs just down the street from tall curving steel creations, likely the HQ of one of the mega companies that tend to have a monopoly here. Wonderful palace complexes, built hundreds of years ago, open up behind their walls right in the center of the city, and you’ll likely find old stone pagodas preserved in a more modern park. You can find colorfully decorated temples both high in remote mountain areas and right in the middle of a bustling town or city, perhaps opposite a huge new conference center.
The public transport system in the large cities is great, and well-used, and yet the traffic jams can be horrendous, as Koreans also love their cars. Koreans are very polite people generally, but this often disappears on the roads, with pushy, impatient drivers. The highway system around the country is amazing, engineered over valleys, and through and around mountains. On some of the highways heading south there are so many tunnels that we lost count and we also marveled at how long many of them are. The Highway Service Areas can be enormous, like shopping complexes in their own right with huge varied food courts.
The country is very aware of the green movement, trying to save energy, and to recycle etc. and yet the cities are awash in a sea of brightly colored, flashing neon at night.
Koreans are very patriotic and very proud of their long, complicated history, with strong influences from China and Japan. Some of the people who hosted us were able to tell stories of previous dynasties and kings, even giving dates of various battles. They tell us proudly about King Sejeong, who developed Hangul, the system for writing the Korean language, which freed them from using Chinese characters; and about Admiral Yi, who helped fend off Japanese invaders hundreds of years ago.
And yet, many (most) Koreans still also have a Chinese character as part of their name—the character gives a meaning. These days, Korea has embraced the concept of learning English as a necessity in our global world, and almost all schools teach English to kids from an early age. There are also private English academies and schools and I saw signs, even in relatively small towns. Younger people are usually quite keen to practice their English but older folk are more reserved and hesitant. Many signs and directions are in English as well as Korean, especially in the cities, so it’s possible as a foreigner to get around on one’s own—notably in the Seoul subway system.
Even though English is widely taught, for us as a foreigner the Korean language can be a problem, especially outside of the Seoul metropolitan area. We picked up a few words orally but the written language remains a mystery—it looks like no other western language we’ve either learned or had contact with. It looks pretty and I’m told it’s relatively easy to learn as it was scientifically developed. But sadly, so far, I haven’t found time to try and learn it.
Korea has a long history of drinking green tea, and yet recently has embraced coffee in a big way, and you’ll find a coffee shop or two on virtually every block. But strangely, coffee is not usually available in restaurants.
Modern fashion is a thriving industry and most Koreans are very elegantly dressed, especially for work. And yet, for special occasions they favor the traditional clothes: we see women dressed in hanboks to visit the temple, or to dance an old traditional dance, and most of the palaces have changing of the guards ceremonies, with the guards all in the old-style costume.
We loved learning about this country and its culture. The following is just a few of the other things that we noted, in no particular order.
Metal chopsticks and a metal spoon are the standard cutlery. More hygienic I believe, but actually harder for us to use than wooden ones!
Beds, or rather roll-up mattresses, are often on the floor. Most westerners are not familiar with sleeping on the floor any more (not unless camping perhaps, when that’s often associated with discomfort!). In fact, in many Korean houses and many restaurants, people sit on the floor too, so long-legged folk like my husband can have problems. Shoes are always taken off in Korean houses and special restaurants, probably because the tradition is to sit, eat and sleep on the floor.
There is excellent public toilet accessibility everywhere, generally. Look for the red (female) and blue (male) signs. For women, also look for the sign for a sitting toilet, not the traditional squatting type (the sign is usually marked on the door of each stall). In some hotels and many homes they have the fancy toilets with all kinds of buttons. Even if they have symbols or an English word I still haven’t really figured them out! And if in Korean, it’s rather daunting as who knows what that button means! A few times I even had trouble finding the flush.
Water is offered almost everywhere, either in jugs on the table or in a large dispenser
that patrons can use. In some public places, like museums, we discovered a very interesting water system: a large water dispenser with small paper cups in a cone shape. We saw very few drinking fountains anywhere as we know them.
There are many convenience stores everywhere—-and they sure are convenient. Many are 24/7.
We noticed lots of noise, people, traffic and neon lights. I can now better understand why some of my Asian students tell me that they sometimes feel lonely here in Champaign-Urbana! They are so used to having crowds of people around them in their lives.
Lots of tourist/historic places have a sign saying “Photo Point”, for the best spot for a picture.
We hope that we can return soon, to learn more about this fascinating country.
This small walled park of about 5 acres, on the edge of Insadong (probably Seoul’s most popular tourist district), is a useful place to sit and relax if you’re in the area for shopping, or visiting Jogyesa Temple or Unhyeongung Palalce. It’s also very popular with retired folk, especially men, who seem to gather there to chat and perhaps play a board game while listening to music on their radios. We’ve been into this park numerous times and it’s fun to sit and people watch. In spring, the leafy greenness is made even more beautiful with beds of bright flowering azaleas.
Besides being a tranquil pretty green oasis in the midst of busy Seoul, Tapgol also has a fair bit of history attached to it, some very old and some relatively recent and certainly not peaceful.
Opened in 1897, Tapgol Park was Seoul’s first western-style park, designed by King Gojong’s financial advisor, an Irishman called John McLeavy Brown.
At first it was known as Pagoda Park or Tapdong Park, named after a 15th-century relic—a 1467 stone pagoda from the Wongaksa Buddhist Temple once located here. Tap in Korean means pagoda. The Temple was destroyed in 1504 on the orders of a Confucian king. The 10-tier, 12-meter-high pagoda is a treasure of Buddhist art, but it’s a little hard to see the wonderful carvings through the glass cage around it (but definitely better to preserve it).
Another monument in the park is the tortoise stele Monument of Wongaksa (see above) built in 1471 to commemorate the founding of Wongaksa Temple in 1465. On the front and back are calligraphy and inscriptions recording the story. The turtle-shaped base is granite and the body is marble. Two intricately carved intertwined dragons, rising toward the sky holding a Buddhist gem, top the monument.
The park is also a symbol of Korean resistance to Japanese colonial rule. Historical note: Korea became a Japanese Protectorate in 1905 and a colony in 1910. Korea was liberated in 1945 after the surrender of the Japanese forces to the Allies. Korea never took well to Japanese colonial rule and by all accounts Japan tried hard to suppress all that was typically Korean. Hence the resistance.
On March 1, 1919, Euiam Son Byeong-hui (leader of Donghak church, and educator) and 32 others signed and read aloud a Declaration of Independence under the 8-sided Palgakjeong Pavilion (see above). This was the first public display of resistance to the Japanese and sparked the March 1st Movement. They were all arrested and sent to the infamous Seodaemum Prison (which we visited on our last trip. More on that later). Many people throughout Korea protested against this, but the samil (March 1) movement was ruthlessly suppressed and hundreds of independence fighters were killed and thousands arrested in the park. Ten bronze bas-relief murals in stone frames around one edge of the park depict the heroic, but unsuccessful, struggle. They are well done and very evocative of what happened then. I took photos of most of the panels, so you can tell they made a big impression.
Every March 1st, a memorial service is held here. You can read an English copy of the Declaration on the Memorial Plaque near the entrance to the park. Just inside the entrance is a large paved plaza, with the Memorial on the right. It has the Declaration and statues of two of the heroes. Just to the side is a bronze statue of Son Byeong-hui.
Park is open daily 6am-8pm and is free. Vendors outside sell souvenirs, flags, and snacks. There are clean public restrooms in the park.
Subway: Lines 1,3, or 5 to Jongno 3-ga Station and take exit 1.
This is a Korean bakery in Paris (there’s fusion for you!). I debated whether to post this on the Korean blog or the French blog, as it pertains to both. So, I decided to post it on both. If you read both blogs, my apologies. But if you only read one, then you won’t miss this!
When we were in Korea we noticed that many bakeries/café/coffee shops have French names, like Tous les Jours, Paris Baguette, Pommier, Paris Croissant.
I wrote earlier about the Korean love of French names for bakeries and cafes here: (https://vivskoreanadventures.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/love-of-french-names-in-korea/ ). One of these bakeries is Paris Baguette, which launched in Seoul in 1988 and soon became a huge success, expanding in the rest of Korea and other countries. Paris Baguette calls itself a “traditional French bakery” and prominently features the Eiffel Tower in its logo. In its outlets, shop employees working the cash registers wear Breton stripes and berets.
As I wrote, “Now Paris Baguette has opened a store in Paris, France, putting its French cooking ideals to the ultimate test. It’s been open a couple of years now, so I’ll be interested in finding out whether it can be a success in France, whether the often-finicky French will accept this. Next time we are in Paris (July this year) I aim to go and find the Korean Paris Baguette and give it a taste test. Will let you know.”
Well, we found it on rue des Lavandières-Sainte Opportune, on the corner of rue Jean Lantier, in the Chatelet area (1st arrond). It wasn’t easy to find an address for the Paris branch of this Korean bakery-cafe but we really wanted to find it, and did manage to track it down.
And, it seems to be doing just fine. We went there twice, and each time it was bustling, with a line of people waiting. It looks very similar to the outlets in Korea, but does also fit into the street here. In fact, with that name you’d never know that it wasn’t just another actual Paris bakery. Everything is written in French, as you’d expect, which we found a little disconcerting at first, having first discovered Paris Baguette in Korea, where everything was written in Korean, of course, but often with an English translation.
One difference is that most French bakeries typically don’t have places to sit, once you’ve ordered, but this does, although fewer seats than in the Korea branches. Another is a few of the offerings, such as Bingsu, which is a Korean addition. A big difference is in the logo. Here the Eiffel Tower has been removed and we see just the PB.
Without actually speaking to the management, I’d say that it’s doing fine. Well done Korean” Paris Baguette”!
I explained about the Seoul Olympic Park and the World Peace Gate in the previous post. Here I’ll focus on a few of the other sculptures dotted around.
As I said before, over 200 sculptures are scattered on the sprawling lawns in the south part of the park, close to the SOMA Museum and Baekje Museum. They were designed and made by sculptors from around the world, and are a great way of showcasing many different ideas. It’s fun to just stroll, looking at the sculptures, admiring some and being perplexed about others. Many people also like to have a picnic near the sculptures. This also became a popular location for movie and commercial TV filming.
Here are a few of the sculptures that we picked out—all 200 are interesting in some way but these seemed more memorable to us. For some, we have pictures but no description, as we couldn’t find the information plaque.
Dialogue, 1987 by Mohand Amara, Algeria. The sculpture shows the value of dialogue between people overcoming barriers such as geography, language, culture and politics. The Algerian artist believes that “art can be a great way of communication, such as how he can connect with Koreans through his work. The two people in the sculpture listen to each other. The sculpture shows the artist’s belief that people are able to not only realize the existence of each other, but also to achieve self-realization and transcend themselves.”
Family, 1987, by Augustin Cardenas, Cuba. The sculpture shows a family tied with love by simplifying a couple and their child into a singe organic entity. “It interacts with the surrounding landscape by keeping the balance between the bottom part, where somewhat geometric supports are and the top part where the human figures are compressed within several volumes.”
Garden Game, 1988, by Kenneth Armitage, United Kingdom. The artist made the sculpture considering the Olympic park as a single garden. The sculpture resembles a white wall, so that it could complement the sunlight in the park. The vertical configuration of the three people occupying a space in the simple square frame, and the movement of arms and legs, give it an overall rhythm and unification.
Namsan is a 860-foot-high peak in the center of Seoul, that once marked the city’s southern edge. Nowadays it’s home to a number of sights: the iconic N. Seoul Tower on the summit; numerous hiking trails; and some wooden hanok (traditional style) buildings on the slopes.
Besides walking up, you can take the Namsan Cable Car. The lower terminus is quite a way above street level from Myeongdong subway station, but it’s worth the hike up.
The N. Seoul Tower is one of Seoul’s best-known landmarks. It stands like a gigantic needle on top of Namsan’s summit. The observation deck gives wonderful views of the city, and there are many places to eat and be entertained, both up the Tower and below.
But, almost the most amazing sight is Seoul’s version of Love Locks.
The top of Namsan has countless “trees” covered with padlocks, which symbolize eternal love. Couples buy a lock, write a message on it and then attach the lock to one of the “trees” and throw away the keys. Many colorful locks are also on railings and lanterns. The spot is extremely popular with visitors and locals alike.
But, none of those previous Love Lock experiences could prepare us for the spectacle on Namsan in Seoul!
Words like “over-the-top”, “over-done”, “excessive” pop into my mind. There are two
places on Namsan that have these Love Locks. The first is close to the cable car top station. Here, is a plaza with “trees” and many locks on railings. Further up, at the base of the N. Seoul Tower, are many “trees”, plus another plaza, the fences of which are so plastered with locks that it’s almost unimaginable. There’s also a metal heart-shaped sculpture, decorated with metal “LOVE” words; a heart-shaped chair to pose on; and a large plaque explaining about the Love Locks in English and Korean.
There are just SO many locks that I want to post a lot of pictures to try and capture this, so please scroll through.
But, it’s all still a lot of fun, and the authorities in the city have obviously tried to prepare for this, so there’s no crisis (not yet anyway) as there was in Paris, when part of the Pont des Arts railing collapsed under the weight of the locks.
On our recent visit to Seoul for the special month-long course:
Inhyuk, who studied at SNU a number of years ago, had been telling us about the wonderful lamb meal that we could have in a local place that he knew. So, one free evening he took Rod, Celia and I and it was another marvelous meal—again! It seems that it’s hard to eat a poor meal in Korea.
This is just an ordinary local eatery run by Chinese-Koreans (Koreans who fled to China during the Korean War, had families and stayed a couple of generations, but are now back in Korea). When I say “just” I mean not fancy, not catering to rich people, not really catering to tourists, but they sure do serve great food, and at reasonable prices, Inhyuk tells us (everthing is written in Korean, so we couldn’t read a thing!). In general, lamb is not that common in Korea, so that’s the Chinese influence where lamb is very popular, especially in hot-pot dishes.
Each table has a grill and a chimney vent in the center. Skewers with chunks of raw lamb
arrived, and we cooked those ourselves on the grill. Plates of kimchi and other pickled vegetables also arrived at the table, and Inhyuk ordered a local alcohol, kind of similar to soju. After we’d eaten all the lamb, we could choose between a bowl of rice or noodles. We opted for the noodles, which came in a soup base with lots of vegetables—very tasty.
Food and eating is a special part of everyday life in Korea. Each meal is an event and deciding what and where to eat is often an important discussion. When traveling, the whole day or excursion is likely to be planned around the meals, and at the very least, the meals will be one of the focal points.
So, we have been very lucky and have sampled many of the wonderful dishes of Korea. That’s why quite a few of my articles have been, and will be, about food and eating!
ShabuShabu is a popular Japanese dish in Korea, especially for special occasions. We were very lucky and had this twice on the campus of Seoul National University (SNU), as celebration dinners for the Workshop.
It’s basically a type of hot-pot dish, involving lots of vegetables (especially mushrooms and leafy greens) and very thinly-sliced meat (preferably beef) cooked in a broth, and a couple of dipping sauces. The beef needs to be paper-thin and have lots of marbling, so the best is Hanwoo (Korean beef), which also happens to be very expensive.
It’s cooked at the table in a large pot on a grill in the center, usually about one pot per 4 people. First the grill is fired up and the broth boils. Then someone at the table (or each individual diner) starts to add some of the vegetables, which arrived raw, piled up on a plate. As those cook, you can begin to get some out of the broth with your chopsticks, dip in a sauce, and enjoy. Soon, you add some of the beef slices and cook them by swirling them around in the hot broth.
When the vegetables and meat have all been cooked and eaten, noodles are added to the broth to cook. They are a wonderful and tasty end to an amazing meal. More than likely, you’ll be offered beer or soju to drink, or a mixture of the two, called Maekju.
Supposedly the Japanese name (Shabushabu) is onomatopoeic, from the sound made when the ingredients are stirred in the cooking pot. However, the origin of the dish is the Chinese hotpot (which commonly uses mutton). No matter…it’s a wonderful way to celebrate, and the food is really tasty and healthy.
One evening Rod and I went out to dinner with Dr Baik and friend Kim Chang, to a Korean buffet restaurant in the Gwanak-gu area of SW Seoul (not too far from SNU). It’s an enormous place, with tables set out in separate sections around a central food station.
The decorations are lovely—flowers and bushes in large brown pots; a small pool with stones and green water plants; large brown jars like kimchi jars; jar lids hanging on the wall telling the story of rice, of soybean paste and red pepper paste; a great display of teas etc. Two of the lids that I noted were:
Gochujang is a savory, spicy fermented Korean hot pepper paste, with chilis, glutinous rice and fermented soy beans.
Doenjang is a fermented soybean paste.
The name of the restaurant is Jayeonbyeolkok, which translates into something roughly like “Natural Harmony, Natural Melody”. It’s based on a poem associated with a traditional poet and artist (1786-1856), whose picture we saw on the wall. I believe his name was Kim Jong-hui, and he was one of the most famous calligraphers of his time, penning a number of Zen poems. (If I have the name wrong, I welcome corrections).
It’s quite a place, and very popular. Dr Baik told us that local people like to come here. It’s always amazing to us how people anywhere in the world generally like the concept of a buffet (=lots of food).
There was a vast selection of foods, from salads, to noodles, to rice dishes, to kimchi, to cooked meats, many kinds of cooked vegetables, fruit, icecream, to name a few. We filled plates from the buffet, but we also had beef slices (beef from Australia), enoki mushrooms and garlic slices cooked on a hot stone that was brought to our table. Delicious!
No alcohol is served except a Korean sweet red wild strawberry wine—we tried it, and it has an interesting, rather syrupy taste.
Another great meal in Korea, and for us a new experience to try this style of Korean buffet.
“Catch a Falling Star” was written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss and made famous by Perry Como in 1957.
Nakseongdae, the neighborhood just outside the campus of Seoul National University, certainly must have caught a falling star. This is the birth place of the famous Goryeo-era General and scholar, Kang Gamchan (948-1031). It is said that when Kang Gamchan was born, a star fell from heaven and landed where he was born, so this place was named “site of the falling star” (Nakseongdae).
The people of Goryeo erected a 3-story stone pagoda at the house of his birth to praise him for his great deeds—he supposedly defeated 100,000 Chinese invaders with only a small army in the Third Goryeo-Khitan War.
Damaged portions of this pagoda were restored by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in 1964, and designated a Seoul Tangible Cultural Property in 1972. Two years later a shrine was constructed for him and the pagoda, which was originally close by, was moved here.
The park is in the Gwanak-gu district of Seoul, just outside the gates of SNU. It’s a lovely park, with large open spaces well used by the local people. A huge equestrian statue of General Kang dominates a large central square, which kids use to ride bicycles or skateboards. Another square connected to this has a small café on the side and many free exercise equipments around the edge, very well used, especially by older folk. It’s a place to meet, chat, have a picnic, watch kids learn to ride bikes etc.
It was fun to just wander around on the recent Election Day in Korea (and therefore a public holiday) and absorb some of the excited vibes, soak up some sunshine and enjoy the last of the beautiful cherry blossoms on the trees lining the squares and the wide path up the hill to General Kang’s shrine.