Winter Seoulstice

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            The tentacles undulated on the plate with a slow, deliberate rhythm…almost like a pulsating heart. A few attempt to crawl across the plate, twisting and writhing in a possible attempt at freedom. Seemingly sluggish and unresponsive, an enthusiastic jab with a pair of chopsticks creates a frenzy of movement. The garnish of scallions and sesame oil seems oddly out of place among the carnage. Trying to pick up an individual, moving tentacle with a pair of chopsticks is a maddening experience; the suction cups cling to the plate in a desperate bid for survival. After finally prying my first bite off the plate, I pause for a second. The tentacle had wrapped itself firmly around the chopstick, oblivious to the fact that it was a willing participant in the tragic journey from the plate to my stomach. Possessed by a feeling of omnipotence, I take my first bite. Before chomping down, I let the suction cups attach to my teeth and the side of my mouth (seriously, one of the strangest sensations I’ve experienced). With slow, deliberate theatricality I bring my back molars together. Expecting the octopus to be chewy and tough, I was surprised to discover it was tender and flavorful (the nuttiness from the sesame oil was shockingly delicious). The movement stops. All I’m left with is a slightly briny, subtle aftertaste. I survey the remaining tentacles on the plate with the harsh, pragmatic judgment of a vengeful God. “Who’s next?”

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Hungry yet?               

            Okay, hyperbole and over-dramatization aside, it was a pretty fun experience! My friends and I had just ridden the subway (public transportation was remarkably clean and efficient in Seoul) to the Noryangjin Fish Market, a public market lined with endless rows of tanks full of various aquatic critters from live shrimp to snapper. After choosing your victim, you take your purchase upstairs where various restaurants and vendors slice the fresh seafood right onto your plate. For the meek, they’ll even grill the fish and serve it with an assortment of side dishes. It was an overwhelming experience, but also a rare moment of whimsy among the grind of the past few months. As enjoyable as my work often is at the village, it can be very culturally isolating living and working on the same campus all week. My adventure at the Noryangin Fish Market injected some much needed magic into my overseas travel, a reminder that a fascinating, new world does exists outside of the bubble of the Daegu Gyeongbuk English Village. In retrospect, a shot of cultural adrenaline courtesy of a week in Seoul was just what the doctor ordered. Here are some brief snippets!

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                Alternating between shivering from the cold and gasping in awe at the Changdeokgung Palace (originally built in 1405, the high walls and open grounds offer the illusion of serenity among the chaos of Seoul).

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Repeatedly gorging on excessive plates of meat (spleen was a personal favorite) at a Korean Barbeque joint a block away from our hostel (seriously, we went there five times over six days).

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The doctor is in

Dipping our feet in tanks filled with doctor fish (little symbiotic critters that nibble away at your dead skin to provide a very organic pedicure…it tickles like hell and I lost all semblance of composure as I giggled madly for five minutes).

Retreating from the cold as often as we could, finding refuge in DvD rooms (after purchasing a movie, you rent out a private home theatre), museums and aquariums (went to the Tim Burton exhibit at the Samsung Museum of Art, the National Museum of Korea and the Coex Aquarium).

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Basking in the bliss of awesome music, fantastic company and a White Russian at a jazz bar on Christmas Eve while snowflakes fell outside.

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Salvaging some Christmas tradition and solidarity by having a gift exchange with my friends on the floor of our hostel before warming up with a bubbling bowl of ginseng chicken soup.

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Strolling around Insadong (the artsy, cultural section of Seoul), Itaewon (an international area where I was able to get my paws on the first bacon cheeseburger I’ve had in months) and Gangnam (see: Psy and/or Gangnam Style. Oh, also the home to an incredible breakfast restaurant). Do most of my favorite moments revolve around food? Of course. A man’s gotta have his priorities.

All in all, a wildly successful trip and I’m eager to return as soon as possible. The return to normalcy at the village was a bit jarring and disheartening, but I’m starting to really hit my stride as I search for a balance between work and my desire to have adventures beyond DGEV. With the prospect of weekend trips to Seoul and Busan, as well as a week in Japan in April looming on the horizon (a week with my parents in a country I’ve always wanted to visit? During cherry blossom season? Fuck yes), there’s a lot to look forward to…and a lot of new experiences to absorb.

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2 thoughts on “Winter Seoulstice

  1. I WISH I COULD HAVE SEEN YOU GIGGLING WITH THE FISH. I miss Alex Orlando giggles. DvD rooms sound so cool! I can’t wait to hear about your adventures in person!

  2. Alex, I part ways with you on the live octopus but am game to get my feet nibbled. Think about a future career as a food writer, properly vetted by academia — I am kidding, of course — but the food descriptions read deliciously well. Happy to see you so happy!
    Be well, h

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