Today, I am going to take you out to eat in Korea. I am supposed to meet my daughter and our friend down at Dunchon Station at 5:30. I wanted to take you by subway, but it will have to wait for another day because my daughter called, and she isn’t feeling well. She takes the subway to work, but I am going to pick her and our friend up in my car and take my daughter some Tylenol. Tylenol doesn’t come in bottles in Korea like it does in America, but in boxes. The red box is a box of Tylenol. We will still go out to eat, but not in the subway. I leave my house at 10 til 5 because that should be plenty of time to get there. In the hallway, I look out the window down into the street. You can see that I am a long way up. I go down the elevator and go out the front door of the apartment building. You can see that it is a nice day, and how tall the apartment buildings are. My car is the SM3, and away we go.
As I go down the small road between the apartments, there are people by the side of the road selling things. A man has chamway, the small yellow melons in the back of his truck for sale. A little woman is at the corner by the stop light selling vegetables. Across the street, you can see a Korean bus. Public transportation is very popular in Korea. Each bus has a number and a certain route, and you can go to the bus stop and read on the sign which buses come there and where they go. There are different colors of buses. Each bus is owned by a different company. The buses are public transportation, but not by the government, but by private companies, and each company has a different color of bus.
As I go on down the street, I am reminded that I promised my daughter I wouldn’t take pictures for you while I am driving, so I don’t, only at stop lights. America is in the car, but Korea is outside. I am listening to an Elvis Presley disc,”Now since my baby left me, I have found a new place to dwell…” and “Jail House Rock,” etc. It is easy to find American and English classic rock discs here in Korea. Down at Balsan Station, I have to wait in a long line of traffic. There is a taxi sitting next to me. Some taxis are silver or black, but many are orange. The black ones are usually more expensive. As I sit at a stop light by Highway Gas Station, there is a bus stop, and a bus labeled “Airport Limousine” pulls up and they pull luggage out of the bottom. These buses are different from regular buses. They go to and from the airport to special places around Korea. They are more luxurious and have more comfortable seats than the local buses. They are made only for travelers, and you buy the tickets differently than the regular buses, and the tickets are more expensive. As I am going down the street, I see two women walking along holding hands. They are not lesbians. Gays and lesbians exist in Korea, but only in secret, and there aren’t many. Here in Korea, it is normal for two women who are close friends to walk along holding hands or to be hooked arm in arm. It is just a cultural difference between America and Korea. If you are a woman and come to Korea, it is a bit of a shock the first time some woman hooks their arm in yours, but you need to relax. They aren’t lesbian. They are just your friend. I continue on, and I should be there on time, but there is so much traffic. It is 5:30, and my friend calls because I haven’t made it, but I am right around the corner caught in traffic. She says we should meet at exit 1 of Dunchon Station, but I am at exit 7. I have to go down the road and make a U turn twice to get to exit 1. U turns are very common in Korea. Usually, there are signs saying you can make a U turn, but if there is no sign saying you can, it is better not to because it is considered illegal.
Finally, I see my daughter and my friend down at Dunchon Station, exit 1. They get in the car, and we head down the road to the restaurant. The parking lot is extremely small, and they ask someone to move so we can park. The cars are packed into the parking lot like dominoes, one right after the other. They have to park in front of one another to park. Some cars are parked on the sidewalk. The name of the restaurant is Sheep (Yang). You can see the the Chinese character up over the door that means sheep.
When we go in, it is a samgyeopsal restaurant which means that the meat will be cooked in the middle of the table on a fire. The meat they serve here is unusual for Korea. They don’t usually serve lamb, but lamb is served here. They begin by bringing our side dishes. In Korea, the side dishes at the restaurants are considered free. They bring us salad loaded with onions, kimchee style noodles, and peanuts. Kimchee is usually made from cabbage peppered down hard with red pepper and very spicy, but this kimchee is noodles and red pepper. The next thing they bring is a dish full of different kinds of sauces to dip the lamp in, then they bring raw meat and big mushrooms. We don’t eat the meat raw.
After that, they bring a metal dish of coals to put in the middle of the table where they will cook the lamb and big mushrooms in front of us. Usually, at these kinds of restaurants, the customers cook their own meat, but at this one, they cook it for us. They also bring a bowl of rice each for my daughter and I, and a bowl of noodles in ice for our Korean friend. She mixes kimchee in with her icy noodle soup.
The man places the meat on the grill. After it cooks a bit, he cuts the bone off with scissors, and then he cuts the meat up in small bite sized pieces with scissors. He pushes the pieces to the side of the grill thinking they are done, and then puts more lamb in the middle of the grill. The lamb is done enough for a Korean, but not for my daughter and I. The meat is still a bit bloody, and we like our meat well done, but we are patient and let it cook a few more minutes, then using chop sticks, take it off the grill and eat it. It is delicious!
After the waiter cooks lamb for a while and we eat, he brings a plate full of stuffed, tempura fried egg plant. It is delicious. However, it is stuffed with a spicy meat, and I can’t eat it. I have learned to stay away from spicy things in Korea because I could be up all night long with stomach problems if I eat them. At the end of the meal, we decide we would like desert, so we go in search of patbingsu, a nice refreshing Korean desert that is like eating ice cream, but much less fattening. “Pat” means sweet read beans, which is something I have only found in the orient. “Bing” means crushed ice. “Su” actually means water, but there is no water in the desert besides the crushed ice.
We go down the street close to Balsan Station to Holly’s Coffee because that is the last place I have seen patbingsu, but it is a seasonal desert, and it is spring time, and some restaurants only serve it in summer, and Holly’s Coffee isn’t serving it. However, they tell us to go across the street to Sulbing and we will find it.
We go outside, and that is kind of hard. In Korea, there are big buildings with many, many businesses in one building. Even in the small towns, it is like the free enterprise system has gone wild because everyone tries to open a business, and there are many, many small businesses in one building. My daughter decided to put the place in her GPS (navigation system) in her cell phone, and our friend goes back in Holly’s Coffee to ask for better directions. Everyone says it is across the street, so we start looking across the street again, but it is confusing. Finally, our Korean friend sees a small sign that says Sulbing in Korean letters next to a big sign all in lights that says there is a singing room in that building. We cross the street and head for the building. As we walk, there are street vendors everywhere. This time, it isn’t vegetables or fruit, but these are selling clothes, flowers, socks, etc.
We get to the building, and the sign says it is on the second floor. Again, we go up an elevator. Elevators are much more common in Korea than in America. In fact, there is an elevator university in one of the small towns here in Korea that people come from all over the world to study about how elevators work so it can be their job. The elevators are very important in Korea because of all the tall buildings.
We enter into the place called Sulbing. It is a place that specializes in patbingsu. I learn that “Sul” means that they grind the ice in their patbingsu as fine as snow. There are all different kinds, but I like the traditional kind the best. You can order them even with fruit, but I don’t want one with fruit. There are three of us, but we only order two which is normal. Besides my traditional one which has the sweet beans and rice cakes in it, we also order one with cake on the top,cocoa powder, and cheese. They give us a plastic thing to take to our table after we pay. The plastic thing will buzz when our order is ready. It buzzes, and my daughter and friend bring our patbingsu to the table. We only have two because in Korea, friends share food. My daughter ate out of mine and out of our friend’s. If I wanted, I could also have eaten out of the chocolate one, and if my friend wanted, she could have eaten out of my sweet bean one. In America, no one eats after the other, but it is normal in Korea, and it is hard for Americans to get used to, but we have done it. Our patbingsu is refreshing and good, and not as fattening as ice cream.
After we are finished, we go outside, and it is dark. There are lights everywhere. We look up and see a cross all lit up. There are church buildings on almost every street corner, and as we look around, there are even more crosses lit up. When Americans come to Korea, they feel safe when they see that Christianity is so popular here. Christianity and Buddhism are the two major religions in Korea, and they are a good combination because they both cause peace. Even children can walk around after dark in Seoul and be safe. It is time to go home because of work the next day, but we had a nice evening out.