I am in the third week of my semi-annual Seoul Cough. Any time it switches from winter to spring or summer to fall, I get this acute bronchitis. Many foreigners and Koreans get this. So far, it hasn’t developed into anything more serious. It’s just lingering, lingering, lingering.
Despite the Seoul Cough taking form, I joined Lars, Injoo, Brant, and friends on a hike up the mountain behind my place. Ironically, if you can make it completely to the other side of the mountain, you end up in Sillim, my old neighborhood in Seoul.
We all met at Beomgye Station and took two taxis to a place at the foot of the mountain. We learned that there’s a rule about only getting in on the right side of taxis because one of them started driving off as Brant was getting inside. You would think that if you’re not supposed to use one side of the taxi they’d lock the door. But again, that would make sense.
We were unloaded at the front of a high school that was just letting out. I thought to myself, “Oh, great place for a group of foreigners.”
As I dreaded, we were barraged by a sea of “Hellos.”
We weren’t sure exactly how to get up the mountain, so we took a path that led through lush gardens. We figured we were on the right path when we passed a tent selling hiking gear.
The mountain behind my place is beautiful. I love looking at it every day when I go outside. It was also the largest thing I’ve ever attempted to climb. And the group tolerated my complaining and sarcastic self-affirmations of “This is fun. This is fun. I’m having a good time.”
We made it to one of the peaks. There was only a kilometer or so to go, but I had seen and gone enough. I figured that the difference in the view from here and the real top of the mountain couldn’t be big enough to be worth it. Brant stayed with me as the rest of the group went to the top.
Brant and I sat on a large rock and caught up with what’s going on in our lives. He and his girlfriend are starting to get serious, and he seems happier than I’ve ever known him.
We had a great view from the rock. The usual complaint about modern Korean architecture is that each apartment building looks as if it was stamped out of a factory. But looking at them from a high vantage point, they create this sort of Warhol-ian splendor on the landscape.
The sun started getting hot, so we walked back down to a grove of trees for shade. The others met us soon after.
We walked down the mountain taking another trail and stopped at a stream. After the stream, we found a picnic table and unloaded our goodies, two baguettes, three wheels of brie and camembert and three bottles of wine. It was all gone in no time. And we were still hungry.
Fortunately, part of our plan was to take this mountain trail to the Dong Dong Ju place that I love so much. Brant was okay that we had changed the plans from eating dog meat since no one in our group knew where any of the good restaurants were located. And we went through a surreal lush green landscape and small lake before reaching the old farmhouse restaurant.
The rest of the group was greatly impressed by the place. In fact, they didn’t show up at the table for a while because they were busy taking pictures. We had a feast of smoked chicken and boribap, rice and barley mixed with vegetables and soybean paste (it sounds weird, but it is damn good and healthy at the same time), and bowls and bowls of smooth sweet dong dong ju, that wonderful rice liquor.
Everyone walked back to Beomgye Station. I left the group at the turn to my apartment, where Eun Jeong was waiting.
Eun Jeong and I had a nice quiet weekend. I was getting sicker, and she treated me out to VIPS Steakhouse for their buffet. VIPS is a Korean franchise, but they do very well on their salad bar and buffet, and I can’t believe I actually miss steakhouse buffets. It had tacos, smoked salmon, pasta, and many exotic fruits and vegetables, including leechees which we shelled ourselves.
That week, I experimented with making another western food using Korean ingredients — Coq au vin. It turned out surprisingly well. The taste was a little exotic for Eun Jeong.
The content management system I’ve been developing for the school has been coming together and is basically ready for launch. I’m also redesigning the school’s web site to link it all together and make it look snazzier.
Last weekend was Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, the biggest Korean holiday of the year. By an unfortunate timing of the moon, it fell on a weekend, so we only got a three-day weekend out of it. I was planning on spending each day relaxing at home watching movies and catching up on TV shows before the new seasons start. But I was called away each day. I’m not regretting it, though.
Saturday, Brant called me to meet him and Derek at Sh-wing. We were the only people available, it seems. It was drizzling outside, but we had a nice time. I was up late Friday night watching TV shows, and for some reason, I couldn’t sleep in on Saturday morning. So I was going on three or four hours of sleep. Combined with the beer and hot wings, my short-term memory flew out the window. I was telling Brant about the previous weekend mountain hiking, and he said, “Joe, remember– I was there.”
After Sh-wing, I wanted to try the place next door because I heard good things about it on Dave’s ESL. But one look at the prices on the menu and we politely left. I still wanted the gelato I had last time. This gelato place in Apgujeong, Gusttimo, is challenging to order. They only have two languages for the flavors, Korean and Italian. And they serve it to you in triple scoops. I got banana, tiramisu, and their new spicy flavor, Diablo. The cashier asked if I had a club card, and I did. I looked in my wallet for it and couldn’t find it. I put down the wallet and checked my pockets and realized the card was at home. The ice cream was melting in the cashier’s hands, so I had to pay quickly. I felt my pockets for my wallet, turned to Brant and Derek and said, “Uh, guys, I left my wallet.”
But it was right in front of me. We left the gelato place, and I was having fun like a kid slurping my melting ice cream in the rain while Brant and Derek made fun of my slippery memory.
Sunday, Injoo’s mother invited me over for dinner like she did last year. It was a great dinner, with steamed pork, Chinese seafood soup, and many fresh and fermented vegetables from their garden. They had me try what they called “really old kimchi.” It was potent stuff. Tasted like alcohol.
Despite the ventures outside, I still was able to catch up on a lot of TV. It sounds sad, but I think a lot of quality shows have come out recently. Too bad their ratings aren’t great. You know, Americans are always complaining about the poor quality of TV. Yet when something of quality comes on, they’re too stupid to watch it and instead catch the latest episode of some trashy shallow reality show.
Korean TV isn’t much different, but at least it’s amusing in its surrealness. Eun Jeong and I were watching a Korean drama. During the commercials, she broke out laughing.
“What is it?”
“They said, “Because Koreans have slanted eyes, they are good at I.T.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know.”