A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
I put on a whole lot of confidence in my limited Korean skills, and went out into Seoul for two days with Umma and my sisters. Here’s where we went:
Myeongdong is a famous shopping district in Seoul. It’s similar to Hongdae – laneways and tall buildings bursting with clothing, shoes and cosmetics stores, as well as street food stalls wedged in between.
Sister 3 works for a food company which owns several different restaurants around Seoul, so we went to a Japanese donkatsu place called Saboten. Donkatsu is crumbed meat – like a sort of schnitzel. I’ve had bad donkatsu in Australia – if overcooked it’s tough and chewy – but THIS place did it right. The meat was tender and the crumbs melted in my mouth. Well done, unni! It also came with a white sesame sauce salad, which is amazingly delicious. I ordered ramen with it, which was a bad idea – ramen in Korean doesn’t come with all the pork and egg like Japanese ramen does. But the rest of it was great!
“Where do you want to go?” asked my sisters.
I was in the mood for some quirky Seoul fun.
“A cat or dog cafe!” I suggested. “Do you like dogs or cats?”
Umma’s eyes lit up. “Dogs!” she said.
When my sisters were teenagers, Umma used to breed dogs. (As pets, not for food). I adore animals. I’m the kind of person who will stop and pat a random dog or cat I see around the street, and be the only adult (maybe) in a children’s petting zoo. I wondered if this was something I inherited from my family too.
Myeongdong Dog Cafe – 명동애견카페 카페개네
A gaggle of wiggly, barking dogs greeted us at the entrance.
For those who’ve never been to a cat or dog cafe, this is what you do:
1. Buy a drink.
2. Play with animals.
Their master was an unni who smacked a rubber bat against the wall to command their attention.
Umma was quite taken by this dog with a bow and chatted away to him in Korean.
“예쁘다!” she cooed. Pretty.
I cuddled sausage dogs. This old one curled up in my lap and fell asleep.
Sister 4 had to return to Jinju and Sister 3 had to go to work, but Sister 2 came to Seoul to visit. She suggested this tiny little restaurant hidden inside a building.
The beef noodle and dumpling soup we ate – 갈국수 kalguksoo – was incredible. The juicy beef made for a flavoursome broth. The dumplings were fat and full and cooked in a thin, strong dough. The kimchi was insanely spicy.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
The last time I was in Korea, I remember seeing an enormous silver building that looked like a spaceship. It was the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a huge department store of sorts featuring interesting products as well as design exhibitions.
Sister 2 came to visit Seoul for the day with Umma, so we wandered around and looked at all the pretty things that I can’t afford or fit into my suitcase.
Namsangol Hanok Village
This is a replica of a Choseon-era Korean folk village.
There are performances on throughout the day, and we arrived just in time for the taekwondo demonstration. With bad guys in capes and a hair metal version of Korean folk song “Airirang”, it was a bit cheesy – but also really fun as black belts flipped through the air and smashed boards.
Umma and Sister 2 were my tour guides around the village. They explained the differences between cooking pots (one for food, one for making makkeoli) and the special bedrooms and leisure rooms for different family members.
“I have one of those,” said Umma, pointing at a huge cooking pot.
I wondered what they were thinking. This was nothing new to Umma and Sister 2, who grew up with this imagery and knowledge ingrained in the culture they grew up in. But it was new to me, and the hundreds of tourists wearing dumb hats and taking photos. I tried to envision my ancestors living in houses that looked like this and cooking in big pots and getting around town in pretty hanboks and, hopefully, doing cool flips and beating up bad guys.
It’s summer in Korea at the moment – dreadfully humid and ripe for wild storms. So after walking around the Hanok village in the disgusting heat, Umma marched us down to a Korean coffee chain to eat my favourite Korean dessert – bingsoo. Bingsoo is shaved ice with milk or ice cream added to the bottom, topped with ice cream and whatever you fancy. A more traditional Korean bingsoo comes with sweet red beans. This one was green tea-flavoured and came with nuts.
We haphazardly made plans to meet again. It’s my birthday and Umma’s birthday coming up soon, and we’re figuring out when we can see each other in between my intensive teaching orientation schedule.
Umma didn’t even get time to hug me as she suddenly saw her bus arrive and sprinted off towards it. Although there are still a lot of questions and things to think about, at least there’s no sadness when I say “goodbye” this time. I’m going to see them again very soon.<
Phew! I finally finished this blog post after working on it for a week. I’m down in Jeju Island now. I still haven’t even gotten a chance to write about my silly night in Seoul and my strange time in Jeju. The last few days have been very busy and exhausting. I guess that’s Korea for you.