Friday, March 27, 2009

Episode 23: In Which DFM Becomes The "Big Tiger" And Receives "Very Many Thankfullness"

Today I tried to set off early and make it to Lee's office so that he could help me do some on-line shopping, Korean style.  I knew it was supposed to be a straight walk from Itaewon to Hannam, but that didn't stop me from making an incorrect turn and getting lost on a bridge over the Han River (I'm still not sure how since there were no turns to make).  Eventually I combined some basic orienteering skills with some more good luck and found my way accidentally back onto the street I had been last night when I had the meal and sang karaoke with Lee, Hyeun A and Arie (and after only an hour of walking around too).  I tried to phone Lee, but it was 1:00 PM and apparently he was still sleeping so I went back home.

I decided to not make the trip a total waste and picked up a pack of tteok I had read about for less than $2.00 on my way back.  These are balls of pressed rice that are then covered with sesame seeds or some sort of desweetened sugar.  Whatever they are, they taste pretty good and really fill you up.  I'd say it's pretty hard to find a denser food than tteok.

I sat down on the edge of a flower bed to eat my tteok, but a homeless woman came and told me I shouldn't sit on the edge of the flower bed or else the hospital to which it belongs will think I'm a drunk and call the police.  Or at least I think that's what she was trying to tell me, I couldn't understand a thing she was saying but it didn't sound like "I hope you have a good time," and she was making a lot of "drinky-drinky" motions too.

The afternoon was still young at this point so I moved on to Plan B.

Seoul was a co-host of the 2002 World Cup of Soccer along with Japan.  Seoul was one of the main sites and now has a brand new football stadium that probably cost millions of dollars.  The problem is, apart from the World Cup, no one in Seoul really cares about soccer.  None of the football teams in Korea are very good, and the only team anyone really follows is Manchester United since the captain of the Korean National Soccer team, Pak Ji-Sung, plays for that team.  

To recoup some of the costs of this giant waste some enterprising Korean turned the stadium into a giant Wal-Mart type shopping mall underneath, with anything you could imagine from bikes to electronics to clothes to food and so much more.  There's a food court and a giant movie theatre and a wedding/banquet hall too.  There's also a World Cup Museum, which is what I came for.

The Museum was kind of sparse, but there were some neat artifacts like shoes and jerseys worn by actual players, and this ball used in the 1960s.

Inside the museum I met Jari, from Finland.  Jari is visiting Korea with his girlfriend from Taiwan, but she won't be here for another week still so in the mean time he's getting acquainted with the city.  We walked around sharing stories of our respective journeys, and eventually figured out that you could actually go on the World Cup field itself and get your picture taken.  That's Jari in the picture.  (I also figured out the hard way that if you try and walk up to the top of the stadium by yourself you get yelled at by the security guards).

The picture would have been better if I had gotten to the field earlier and had some better light, but it took me an hour to actually find my way inside.  The outside was entirely enclosed in a big metal gate, and even though there were many booths with the English word "Information" written on the side around the building, the employees inside never spoke any English so it was impossible to get any help from them.

Some other interesting facts about the Stadium include the five parks that were built around it and the fact that it is built on a giant mound of garbage.  Apparently the land the World Cup Stadium is built on was an old landfill, and I found that it still smells like it if you go down by one of the streams running through the parks.  From the Stadium I headed over to Summit Climbing Center to keep my promise of a return to Jenny and "the gang."

Hyun-Dai wasn't there, but Jenny was, and so were Yu-Suk and a new friend, Sun-Young (Yu-Suk and Sun-Young are in the picture).  Sun-Young is actually an English teacher here in Seoul, which I thought was notable since usually only white people get those jobs (unless she teaches the grammar parts).  I expressed to Sun-Young that I thought it was unfair that when Koreans come to Canada they get English names along with their Korean names, but over here I still only have one.  She gave me a Korean name, Dae-Ho, which means "Big Tiger."  Mr. Chang thought it was fitting.

I gave a gift to Mr. Chang to thank him for the book he gave me on my first visit.  Mr. Chang made me sign the gift and then said "very many thankfullness" to me before placing it on his gift stand in the entrance to the climbing area.  In this picture is a cat from Japan, some sort of trophy from Switzerland, some carved figures from Thailand (or maybe Taiwan, I can't remember) and my totem pole from Canada.  Later, Mr. Chang said that he some times takes members of the gym out to the mountains to climb and he invited me along.  

On an unrelated note, I mentioned to Mr. Chang that I was going to Busan the next day to dive with sharks.  I found out that Mr. Chang is also a certified scuba diving instructor and that one of the instructors at the Busan Aquarium was a student of his.

I also mentioned that I wanted to try a marathon while I was here, and Mr. Chang and Jenny found a mountain half-marathon on the 25 of April for me.  The race is very special because the course runs through a part of the mountain park that is normally closed to hikers/tourists/Koreans in general.  Since I can do a marathon anywhere, and the one I was going to do isn't anything major (not to mention I'm definitely not in shape for a marathon yet), I think I might try this race instead.  Mountain races are my favourite kind, and it would be a perfect cap on the wonderful hiking experience I've had here so far and am sure to have between now and the race.

While I was climbing at Summit, Tae Young (from Hexa gym) phoned me up and said he was in Itaewon for the day and wanted to know if I would like to get something to eat.  I hustled home as fast as I could after I finished and we went to Don Valley Korean Barbecue House.

I had some sort of very hot and spicy beef soup that has a name Tae Young told to me and I forgot.  Tae Young also told me that many Koreans eat the hot, spicy soup to combat the blazing heat of the summer.  He agreed with me that this custom did not make any sense.  Tae Young had bibimbap, which is a famous Korean dish and tastes quite good too.  I should have taken a picture of the meal, but I was too busy stuffing my face and so I had to settle for this make-up shot on the way out.  Note:  The hangul in the sign is pronounced "Doan Balley," I think.

After the meal Tae Young came back to my shoe box of a room and helped me find out the schedule of the train to Busan the next morning.  I could not get the schedule before, because the English version of the site has not been working properly since as long as I've been trying to find out the schedule (over a year), so Tae Young went on the Korean site and in about 5 hours from now I'll be up and on my way to Busan.

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