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  • Day9

    Day 8: The Bank Trio

    November 15, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ 🌧 6 °C

    Friday we got to meet the last member of the Seoul branch of the 1960s Bank friend group. The three women worked together, maybe are kind of related, and spent time years ago, and continuing until the present, meeting and catching up each time they found themselves in the same city. There is a 4th work friend who currently resides in Canada, so lunch was only with Alice, me, and the downtown bank three.

    We went to a nice a Japanese restaurant, and, as per usual, I have no idea what was ordered. It was seriously the best trip ever. I sit there like a dummy, let other people do all the work, eat, and rarely pay. If I could set up this system more often, life would be grand.

    The food was served semi-family style. Alice, her mom, and one friend were a trio of food. Aeyoung and I were the other pair. First came the fish soup. Second came the egg/fish cake, spring roll bite, and a sashimi stacked salad bite. Then the main course came. In front of Aeyoung and I was placed a large bowl full of fish and greens and then a plate full of more sashimi and rolls. It wasn’t a massive amount of food, but it was a pretty hefty serving of sashimi. I ate my half, and told Aeyoung, “Those are yours.” She replied with, “I can’t eat that much.” I said, “Oh, you need to eat more. I’ve had plenty. I’m not the one who needs it.” She replied with, “There is more food coming.” Me: “What???” In fact, that was the THIRD course…of Five. FIVE! Next came the fried fish. We ended with noodles. It took me at least 7 of the 10 day trip to finally learn…you always end with noodles. I mean, why not? I muscled through because I am, after all, not a quitter. Amazing lunch. I still couldn’t order it again if my life depended on it. Ignorance truly is bliss when it comes to me ordering food in Korea.

    The bank trio stayed in the neighborhood and spent the afternoon chatting at a coffee shop, Alice and I hopped the bus and headed to the COEX Mall to see the library. Yes, you read that right…the library. Seoul (and the rest of Asia apparently) are home to massive, underground malls in various areas of the city. We were staying on top of one that sprawled under the Shinsegae department store and the attached Express Bus Terminal in Gagnam. Just to the east of where we were staying, and still in Gagnam, sits the COEX Mall, the largest underground mall in all of Asia.

    With the increase in internet commerce, malls are becoming a bit of a thing of the past, so what did the Shinsegae conglomerate decide to do? Take some of that empty mall space and make a massive library. Massive. Most of the books are in Korean, I’m not sure many of the books are even physically accessible, and, as of our visit, you could not check out the books; but you could sit for hours in the climate controlled space, grab some coffee, and read whatever you brought or you could grab from the shelves. Plus, there are power outlets everywhere. Genius, I say. Those Koreans are genius.

    We received a text from the bank trio that they were back in Alice’s hotel room and the bad influence (read: fun one) had brought beer. Alice and I took the bus back to the hotel and we continued our lunch visit some 6 or so hours later.

    We were staying at the JW Marriott Hotel Seoul and as I mentioned earlier it was above the Shinsegae (Korean for: "New World) department store, a gorgeous, 7 floor department store. The biggest delight of Shinsegae is the food court and grocery store on the basement level. This is typical in all of Europe (and I guess Asia) to have food in department stores. We have this to some extent in the US, but nothing like a department store abroad. Asia brings this to an entirely new level. Imagine dumplings steamed right before your eyes and discounted at the end of the day. Stalls and stalls of gourmet food to go. We grabbed some dumplings and some fruit for our hotel room party with the bank trio. Asia also raises the level in the grocery section. Our first night in Seoul, Alice bought some tangerines. I was doing jet-lagged conversion and thought they weren’t that expensive. Alice kept talking about the price, but I just thought, “We bought them in a department store. They weren’t that expensive.” They were TEN times the price I thought they were. Alice bought 40 dollar tangerines! A few days later, a little less jet-lagged, we saw the huge sign above our heads. The sign read, “VIP produce.” If you turned around, walked 20 feet into the store, there you find tangerines for 3 bucks a pound. Sadly, those VIP tangerines were unbelievably juicy and tasty, and I complain any time I’m reduced to normal produce now. I am no longer just a normal snob. I'm a VIP fruit snob.

    Next up: Another amazing meal appears in front of me, one more UNESCO World Heritage site, and this is where it gets ironic.
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