Day 9: The Final Full DayNovember 16, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C
Saturday was our final full day in Seoul. We met up with Alice’s oldest cousin and his wife at another great Japanese restaurant for lunch. (This was the day that their 12 year old was unable to join us due to all-day math tests…Saturday math tests…Again, she is 12. Korean education is no. joke.)
Korean food originates from regional differences during the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE - 668 CE,) from the Mongol invasion during the Goryeo period (13th century), from the agricultural innovations and trade with the West and Japan and China during the Joseon Period (15th-19th centuries), and from the subsequent Japanese colonization period (1910-1945.) During our 10 day stay, we ate foods that represented all of the above: Noodles from China, Bread from Europe, Banchan (side dishes) made from the various greens that grow wild in the mountains, and Sushi from Japan. The Japanese occupation of Korea was exploitative and brutal and only ended when Japan was defeated in WWII. During our trip, the news was focused on Japan because the Japanese government refused to apologize for the abuse of the Korean “Comfort Women.” The Japanese are not held to high esteem because of this history. Their cuisine is a lasting influence.
After another lunch that I had no part in ordering or paying for, but enjoyed tremendously, we reconnected with Aeyoung to visit our last UNESCO World Heritage site of the trip: Jongmyo Shrine.
Jongmyo is the oldest and best preserved Confucian shrine. Originally built in the 14th century, it was destroyed by a Japanese invasion in the 16th century and rebuilt in the 17th century. It’s authenticity and its continual use as a place of ancestral worship earned it the UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995.
The spirit tablets, stone tablets which stand in effigy for the deceased, of all but two Joseon Kings are stored at Jongmyo. There are 19 memorial tablets of kings and 30 of their queens stored in 19 rooms. Jongmyo Jerye, an elaborate ritual that includes music and dancing, was held for each royal at Jongmyo. During the Joseon period, Jongmyo Jerye was held 5 times a year. In modern times, the ritual has been revived and is celebrated the first Sunday each May.
We headed from Jongmyo to Gwangjang Market for some food. This is where it gets ironic. Our (and by “our”…I mean Alice’s…I was just a follower) intention at Gwangjang was to find the made-famous-by-street-food-Netflix-shows Mungbean pancake stand. We wove through the crowded market looking for the stand. When we found the line that wound AROUND the entire middle of the market, we knew we were there. You could either wait in the shorter “To Go” line, or in the longer “For Here” line. The place was tiny. A decision was made to take it to go and find another stand to buy more food and a place to sit. It was chaotic. We ate semi-sketchy food cooked by seemingly very angry women (though, at the end, the lady flashed me a very warm smile…she was either happy to see me go or not as angry as I had presumed.) We left the market in search of a Makgeolli bar. Makgeolli is an unfiltered rice liquor. We failed in our endeavor. Our last night was slightly unsuccessful. We couldn’t get into the Makgeolli bar, and the hypochondriacs, Alice and I, worried all night that we might get a stomach bug from the wet market. A STOMACH BUG. I laugh at the irony of this. Just as a worldwide pandemic was brewing a few thousand miles away, I was worried about a stomach bug. I love me.
So that was it. The last night of a trip I am possibly the most happy to have taken. It ended a little imperfectly. I need to go back to find good Makgeolli. However, I didn’t get a stomach bug, I fell in love with Seoul in particular and Korea in general, and now, I am converted to Korean! In fact, I was planning my return visit even before I caught my flight home.
I think Korea is under-appreciated in the eyes of American tourists. I find this lack of American tourism ironic since Korea is such a beautiful country with so many influences from the wider Asian continent…and because Americans are addicted to certain specific Korean gifts to the world: such as electronics (read: Samsung) and K-Pop music.
This is also a good place to point out the anti-Asian racism that exists because of Covid-19 and how unacceptable that racism is. A "wet market" is simply a market that sells fresh meat. Pike's Place Market in Seattle is a "wet market." To blame this pandemic in any way on Asia is racist. Spanish flu originated in pigs in Kansas. The United States is not "better than" or a victim of Asia because of this pandemic.
Next up: I leave. Alice finds the highlight of the trip without me. Never “save” money on a flight.Read more