Sunday, April 01, 2007

Anne So came to Seoul!

Well, that’s all about the few days off I took in Seoul.
Thursday afternoon, met Anne So at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Hopefully, we had a nice weather, though the flowers were not yet blossoming, unfortunately. The landscape may thus have seemed a little sad sometimes. Very beautiful palace, though, quite big. This is the last palace I am visiting. It’s true that the more you visit them, the more they seem the same. Whatever; I always enjoy visiting them. The guide was nice and dynamic, she poured the visit with a few Confucian principles. She was also sensitive enough not to hammer away at the traditional “this building was destroyed by the Japanese in…”, that I had read too often on presentations in the places I have visited so far.
As Insadong was very close to it, we went there for window shopping of traditional stuff, and a long tea time. It’s been ages since I longed for a traditional Korean tea. It’s taken an hour to find the place though, I looked like the squirrel in Ice Age, desperately seeking for the place.

Friday morning : Insadong !
Namdaemun was part of my « to do » things in Seoul.
Loads of people told me, “you know what, Namdaemun is boring and so on”. You may know my passion for markets, since I lived in Lille from 2000 to 2005 (how many people were dragged to Wazemmes market, then to the Vieux Lille Market, on Place du Concert, next to the 5 rue de la Rapine, just to get a few veggies, a chicken that just came out of the oven, and a just-baked baguette, then, spend lazily some time on a terrace, drinking a pint of Leffe beer in the Spring. Nostalgia nostalgia), or since my travels in Africa. Well, I guess I visited each market from each city I’ve been to, in Korea. Hence my visit to Namdaemun!
Well, the “you’ll see, you don’t need so much time to visit Namdaemun” was a total mistake. It actually took us 5 hours to visit Namdaemun.
Loads of people told me: “you’ll see, there’s nothing to buy in Namdaemun”. Well, of course, there are loads of awful stuff (the ajumma clothes) but we’ve found a really trendy nice shop in Namdaemun, looked like a mixture of Bill Tornade and Cop copine (sorry, these are French brands, I do not have the equivalent in other brands. Well, the cuts are often trendy and asymmetrical. See what I mean?), for H&M prices. Makes a mouse’s day. That day, I just indulged in a flower broach made of cloth, for 3 dollars as well as Tshirt for 2 dollars…

At lunch time, we landed in a foodstall where they sold fresh noodles that the ajummas was cutting just in front of us. So, that was super fresh. We had loads to eat. The ajumma also gave us a bowl of bibimmyeong (summer cold noodles with veggies) for free. Well, we have really eaten well, in the heart of Namdaemun. We were chatting so much, well we’re Parisians, so, when the third new patron came next to me, the waitress jokingly scolded me to eat faster (pari pari).
Then, we went forth, in the discovery of Namdaemun. I found it rather strange that we did not come across these stalls where you can find veggies, spices, that would let us takes so picturesque pics from Namdaemun (the very original pics you may find in lonely planet…). The other quiz of the day for miss-ikebana (Anne So took up some ikebana lessons) was: “where do all these flowers wrapped up in newspaper come from?”

After our fulfilling lunch, we sat on a mini terrace to have a traditional tea with seeds in it. Then, we bumped into these two ajummas coming there for the same function as us (some tea). My instinct said, go and ask them, they may know where the spices are in Namdaemun (hopefully, that day, I had my vocabulary notebook, and red pepper was in it…). The ladies made us run in the streets of Namdaemun, until we came across these dark dark streets, where one could smell fish, or see butchers cutting a pig in a dark street. And then, miracle, spices are all over there. We thank the ladies, who, according to Anne So, look like the boss of the neighbourhood. I am so happy to have found the place (the achievement of the day). I feel happy to have that “good nose” that let me find the right people at the right moment (well, this is true since I manage to articulate a couple of Korean words), that would take me right to the place (would you experience that in France, in Paris???)

In the food place, we took loads of pics. I love the pics I took in Namdaemun, because that day was usual for Koreans, there were not too many tourists. Few foreign people feel the need to go into the smelly fish stalls. I managed to steal a few authentic moments of Korea, these ajoshis eating their lunch, these ajoshis and ajummas indulging in a nap… I guess you may feel the sympathy I have for these people.

I guess I was quite happy, that day, in Namdaemun. The hectic streets of Namdaemun had given me some energy. Well, something made me really happy in Namdaemun. Well, a small revolution. People would not treat me as a Russian. Well, we spoke in French, of course, but, vendors would speak to me in… Japanese. It really made my day. There was no aggressiveness in that (well, of course, Japanese people should be good patrons for them). But that single thing really touched me, as if I had managed to Asianize a little bit more. Well, of course, after three seconds of being touched, the mouse would go back to her good old habits, and start negotiating prices in Korean. Well, it’s good to be acknowledged as a Japanese here, without being shouted at for that, but I definitely would not want to be considered as a tourist in Korea!!

Then, we finally found the flower shop, a huge place with loads of cheap flowers. Next to it, there was a kind of sweat shop… full of accessories. Though I was about to faint!

After Namdaemun, off we go to Myong Dong. The atmosphere drastically changes. Welcome to the Palace of shopping. Loads of trendy shops. Anne So fell for a pair of shoes. I knew she was kind of addicted to shoes. Not to this point. Well, she had that strange face, half way from that of the squirrel in Ice Age when it grasped at last the cherished nut, and that of a vampire that just had dinner, well, you see what I mean. She got a few minutes of nagging and laughers from my side. Well, I indulged in a pistachio colour small bag. I really think my mum will get mad when I come back home, when she sees all the nice bags I found here… though I have enough bags in Paris… Well, the small size of my goshiwon room did not manage to prevent me from shopping… niak niak niak

After these sooo tiring hours spent shopping, we ended up at Hakrim Café in Hyewha, the oldest coffee shop in Seoul. The setting is very cute, very retro, with reasonable prices (well, when you think about prices at Coffee bean or undrinkable Starbucks…). We had a good laugh because we bumped into two Koreans speaking German fluently next to us. Curious as I am, because, well, Koreans speaking good English are already pretty rare, so… Koreans speaking German! So, I asked them (auf Deutsch natürlich, Had not been speaking German for about two years…) why. One of them spent his whole life in Germany, and the other one lived in Austria for 7 years. The Korean German was tutoring the other one. Das war die Erklärung!
For dinner, we had Korean BBQ, in a funny setting (manwha stuck on the wall. Korean mangas on the wall, pretty interesting for the pop culture researcher ^^). On our way back, we came across a man crawling downstairs… Well, nothing special, was Friday night. Really “natural people” these Koreans, says my friend. Other staggering figures confirmed that…

On Saturday, I was supposed to meet Anne So at 11 am at Hongdae. Well, it happened to be 12 am… Well, until that day, Anne So was pretty impressive with time and space management in Seoul, she was quite good with the Seoulite subway… contrary to my first days in Seoul last year, when I really got lost hundreds of times, and got lost a lot o_O)
Well, she lost versus the green line, which is circular in Seoul. While I was waiting for her, did my sociology of trends and fashions in Hongdae, noticed roughly 20 people, in an hour, wearing leopard (scarf, shoes, bags, sweet shirt, or the best, the furry coat!). At lunch, had some samgyetang (a whole chicken stuffed with rice, marinated in a ginseng soup). Third time I eat some, always with people connected to Japan (my “Senior” from Tokyo Univ, researcher from Osaka, and Anne So working in Tokyo). That was good for a health, as it was quite cold outside. In the afternoon, balad in the arty places, chasing graffs as Anne So specialized in graffs for her masters. Then, we ran to Insadong for the last shopping. In the subway, Anne so notices how “natural” Koreans are in their behaviours. I kinda ignore this, as I live there, but for a Tokyoite by adoption as her, must have been a cultural shock…

At 7 pm, we meet the ACA gang (Woosang, Yum, Ha, Hanna), Joyce from HK, and my boss, for dinner at Sinchon, another university place, where Yonsei univ campus is. A campus well known for its eye candies, and I of course do confirm… (a mouse cannot change in 6 months…). BBQ, and a traditional drinking place with some makole (one of my fav’ alcohol). Very nice evening. I laughed a lot, as my boss was partaking of our first encounter: “So she dashes into my office though she had two tiring hours of train to get to Chuncheon. I was coming back from lunch, and she was keeping on asking questions, before even taking a seat and quietly discuss. Damped with sweat, she runs to the cafeteria to swallow lunch, before going to my amphitheatre and present to my students her research purpose. Was hard to slow her down. I found her quite dynamic from the very first day, and she proves that until now”, my boss said, quite laughing. Well, I thought I was not that stressful in Korea, but my Tex Avery Mip Miiiip nature always comes back….

Then, we share a taxi with Hanna. The first taxi was not nice, so we got off. Then, surprise, the next one is adorable. He welcomes us warmly. In a strange language. Sounded like English, but there was a bit of German. So, I ask ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch?’. He stares at me, a bit astonished, then says in Korean to Hanna, „waw, she can speak many languages!“ “Speaking a lot of languages is a good thing, but it is even better to be a honest person”.
For once, the taximan was really a nice person (and, to be honest, I really hate taximen in Seoul usually). To the point that my colleague, who hates chatting with nosy taximen, or, well, she does not really like keeping on saying the same things about her, was exposing quite a lot about her (well, according to the few words she was saying), just to prove how the taximan managed to gain her confidence.

We ended up in this absolutely cute bar in Hyewha, where there were loads of cats. Among them, there were cats like mine. A red-haired kitten like my former Tora, a Siamese cat (the skinny version of my Lara cat), and a black brown cat (the big and calm version of my sis’s Vega). The cats would come and say hello, have a nap on your knees. The bar tenant, Hochan, is an artist. I met there a Russian, a Swedish, and a German. All nice people. Was really glad to find this bar.

On Sunday morning, Anne So took her limousine to the airport. Hopefully, she still has loads of things to do in Seoul, so she’ll come back! This time, the trip was also a location-report for her friends Capucine and Chloe, both French adopted from Korea. Next time, I guess she’ll come back with them. Must have been strange for them to know that their friend was visiting the place where they were born. Will be a pleasure for me to guide them in the streets of Seoul!

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