Sunday, September 20, 2009

Episode 14: In Which DFM Kills 3 Birds With 1 Stone, and Eats Pig's Blood And Liver Loaf

Since my weekdays are invariably spent going to work meetings or climbing, that leaves only the weekends to try and catch up seeing all of my friends who keep asking me to have lunch with them.

Last week I went to Gwanghwamun with my Korean friend from Canada, Charles. This week I had promised Charles I would meet him again, but I also needed to meet Sung-bok and Woojin (not the Phys Ed teacher) for the first time since coming back, too. So I hatched a grand scheme to try and have all four of us meet in the same place for lunch. However, getting four people together at the same time, in the same place, in a city as big as Seoul is no easy task. We finally did find an agreeable time and location, but ironically I was late for the meeting, as I had forgotten where we had decided to meet and at what time.

Sillim-dong is an administrative district of Gwanak-gu, which is home to Gwanak Mountain (where I went hiking with Perry back in March). In Sillim-dong, there is a special neighbourhood called Sundae Town, which is famous for its many sundae restaurants. Now, before you get the wrong impression and think we went for ice cream, I think an explanations of sundae is in order.

Sundae (pronounced "soon-dae") is an ancient Korean dish made by stuffing pig intestines with cellophane noodles (made from sweet potato), barley, and pig's blood. At our meal there was also some liver cut to look like a small meat loaf, and I was told there were even some "sausages" made from pig's stomach too. All of these ingredients were fried together at our table (what else would you expect in Korea?) with some sauces, spices, and various vegetables. Ample ssam - lettuce leaves for wrapping the meat, as in eating ssamgyeupsal - were provided, along with some ssamjang (spicy red paste in which to dip the already spicy meat).

As usual, the waitress was worried the food would be too spicy for me, but compared to gochu pepper or maeuntang (the soup with the fish head), it did not even register. At the end of the meal I had made a pig ("hero") of myself by finishing off the whole pan.

The experience was also beneficial in that it allowed me to repay Charles, Seong-bok (I've been calling him Sung-bok, but that's not exactly correct), and Woojin for having paid for the last meals we had together either together or separately (I've owed Seong-bok and Woojin a debt since April). In Korean culture, bills are rarely split, and friends will take turns buying meals for each other under the assumption that things will work out evenly in the end. Granted, it's not a fool proof system, but when in Korea...

After the meal I had to head over to Home Plus at the World Cup Stadium again and pick up some more necessary supplies. (If you remember my visit here in the first adventure I mentioned that since Koreans don't watch enough soccer to make the multi-million dollar stadium profitable, someone gained permission to put a two-floor mega-market inside under the bleachers.)

On this day, the Stadium happened to be host to the Asian Song Festival. At first I thought the hundreds of people exiting the station were for a soccer match, but there were no ticket booths set up, and the 10:1 ratio of high school and middle school girls to men seemed to suggest otherwise. I felt it might be something worth seeing, since it definitely seemed large, but soon remembered that I hate modern music and while some Korean pop songs are catchy, it couldn't possibly be worth giving up an entire evening to watch.

I was, however, intrigued by the mobile phone game convention set up in front of the stadium. Hundreds of Koreans were standing in long lines to have a chance to play a game on a TV screen using their "hand pones" (cell phone). Playing games on a four square-inch screen with tiny control buttons seems pointless. I am also fascinated by some Korean hand phones' ability to pick up TV channels, but not when the people watching them are walking slowly in front of me, blocking the hallway to head to my next subway train.

Lee (my roommate) and his wife, however, made the mistake of actually going to the Festival. When they came home, Lee complained about how far away the seats were (on the other side of the football stadium from the stage), and his wife complained that nobody was dancing. Lee later explained that twenty to thirty years ago people used to dance, but then the police could not control the crowd and someone died, so now no one dances. Essentially then, just another in a long list of Korean over-reactions to non-threatening situations (refer to the escalator story from one of my earlier posts, and don't even get me started on Electric Fan Death).

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