Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shopping and Traditional Eating

Shopping at "Home Plus" in Korea is like a combination of Costco and an amusement park, where the sample people there in full force and accompanied by a contingent saleswomen with french street vendor tactics. Spend too much time showing interest in what they're selling and it will somehow end up in your basket. Kids were running around wild, shopping carts have unfixed back wheels so they can drift like a car or move completely sideways, and the whole place is made more incomprehensible by combination English and Korean writing. They also have a McDonalds (I tried a bacon tomato burger...DELICIOUS!).

Here I learned that there is no such concept as "excuse/pardon me" when moving past somebody or asking them to get out of the way. I had a woman literally run her cart into the back of me gently multiple times without ever saying a word, because in this culture, somehow the words would be more offensive than the nudging. It cracked me up though, I feel like none of this can possibly be real, especially the nudging in a country where convenience store clerks bow deferentially when selling umbrellas.

Paige and Forrest led me around a bit and talked to me about the culture and the goofy things to look out for or be aware of. They've been amazingly kind and helpful, and I'm currently attempting to concoct a way I can repay them for everything they've done for me up to this point.

They invited me out with them to have a traditional Korean meal with a woman (Grace) who runs a FREE Korean Language class across the street from my apartment. Grace and Cindy were extremely friendly and spoke reasonably good English. They took us to a restaurant that translates approximately to "Country Table", where the first word is in reference to the country style meals and cooking and the table is the traditional, low table that you sit or kneel at on a pad.

I wasn't even sure how we ordered. There was some discussion about it and I just said I was down for whatever, and somehow the waitress got the message. Eating works entirely different here. I actually needed instructions. The waitress brought out nineteen - yes, nineteen - different side dishes (two of each between five of us) which covered the entire table, and in addition to this we ordered one plate of a sort of barbecued beef bite. The side dishes are very small, perhaps a 3-4 inch plate in diameter (occasionally a larger bowl for soups or this strange egg dish). In addition to all this, each person has a bowl of rice and a seaweed soup.

Paige said it best, "I have no idea how much I've eaten." All the little dishes make it impossible for you to keep track of how much you've had as you sample from each one and mix and match flavors with rice and the beef dish. At some point I found myself full of apparently healthy food. Grace would tell us about each dish and how each one was "good for X" where X is any possible body function, part, or remedy for an ailment. We joked when we got in the car and the center seat had no seatbelt, that sitting in the center without a belt is good for the skin.

The only thing I didn't try was a rotten looking sort of grey crab. Red flags shot up when Cindy brushed flies away from one of those dishes. However I did eat about three different types of Kimche(sp), multiple lettuce/cabbage dishes, some kind of sauced up nuts/beans, a bean/meat paste, a couple of egg type things, etc etc. Most of it was good, but some of the flavors were just so foreign to me that I found it hard to make myself take a second bite. The whole meal cost 11,000 Korean Won per person, which is under 10 dollars (a steal when you think about how much food we left on our table).

After dinner, Grace took us on a little drive around Ansan and we stopped at a cultural center where every Saturday they have some sort of live performance, a concert, and then a movie all for free. I'm going to join her Korean class, which meets on Sundays. It'll make a nice supplement to my Rosetta Stone practice. I spoke two words of Korean at the table, and was complimented on my pronunciation on both. Despite the fact that I can't even recall what one of the words was (the other was thank you), I take this as a sign of my superior language abilities, and I will no doubt master the language in good time ;) .

I'm exhausted but I'm going to push to stay up for another hour or so. Tomorrow is my first day of work, I'm really hoping somebody shows up to take me to work because I would never be able to find SLP on my own.

I wish I had pictures of the meal. I set up a Flickr account, but didn't have my camera with me. There will be other opportunities.


  1. Hi David,
    I love hearing all of your interesting comments about Korea, the culture and the interesting people. The "country style" meal sounded quite interesting to say the least. So glad you have the "adventure spirit" to try things out. It will be great when you are able to learn a bit more Korean. I liked your idea of getting your little Korean 'Egg McMorning special' Maker to help you learn some new phrases. Hope to talk with you later. Love you. Mom

  2. Flies on food= No way in hell am I eating that.