Saturday, March 29, 2008

3/30/08 Korean Barbeque and a Cathedral

It was March 23rd, half way through our Korean vacation, and we still hadn't tried any of the famous Korean barbeque. We were in the middle of a "what's for dinner" conversation when I spotted a neon lit bull's head on a storefront.

Look at that delicious red face of his.

By the time we paid the bill we had eaten one of the best meals of our stay. Little plates full of various spicy vegetables covered the table to the extent that we all expressed pity for the dishwasher. I must say that I appreciate this style of dining. Even in a fairly humble eatery such as this, I really felt like my hunger would be satisfied one way or another.

The usual kimchi was available, as well as a few sauces, some garlic to throw on the grill, and a little salad or two.

This was indeed a barbeque restaurant. That became evident early, as every table in the room was centered with its own little barbeque pit. We grunted while pointing at some nice looking pictures of meat assortments on the menu, then sat back and enjoyed the ride.

When someone brought the pale of hot coals in with a set of tongs, the excitement grew. Our waitress assumed that in addition to being unable to speak any Korean, we couldn't operate a heat source, so she did just about everything that needed to be done. She checked on us incessantly throughout our stay, so we wanted to get a picture with her before we left.

I pointed at what I thought was a vegetable plate, but it ended up being a large bowl of bibimbap. The pile of vegetables was simply showing what the dish would consist of, which is basically a large variety of plants and a bit of meat mixed with rice. It is a pretty famous Korean dish, and I was pleasantly surprised that I had happened to stumble on to it.

Bibimbap is my new favorite.

The meal ended with these tiny little cups of liquid being passed out. I couldn't pinpoint exactly what the little chilled drinks consisted of, but they were slightly sweet and a little bit fruity.

Here we are with our favorite Korean waitress ever.

When we left, the old woman operating the cash register was happily bidding us farewell in Korean. We of course replied with English, but the words don't really matter when trying to convey basic emotions. She threw a bit of Japanese in at the end as well, which I thought was interesting. My understanding is that many of the older people in Korea will know some Japanese due to Japan's efforts to force everyone to learn it's language and forget Korean. I was a bit surprised to hear it though, as I thought maybe the language might have some bad feelings associated with it. As for the several times that I did hear Japanese, I didn't respond. Partly because I didn't want to get involved, and partly because it was ruining my exotic vacation experience.

Well, this was Easter evening, and I couldn't think of a better time to go visit Myeongdong, and its Myeongdong Cathedral. The Myeongdong area is a pretty hip and happening place. Younger shoppers are prevalent, and clothing stores, coffee shops, and upscale restaurants line the streets. This area is also a big deal to Japanese tourists, and I would say that this is the place where I heard the most Japanese. Japanese characters were commonly found on store signs in this district as well.

One of the highlights from this area for me was a couple of hilarious guys making kkultarae, a court cake made of honey and malt wrapped around a nut mixture. According to the marketing, it was once eaten by kings and honored guests. The presentation was awesome, the cakes tasted pretty good, and it was a pretty unique experience all around. They were cheap enough that I bought a few boxes to bring back to the teachers at my school in Japan. It is customary to bring a little present for your coworkers when you go on a trip. I think that it is partly to apologize for leaving the team to go have fun. I mostly just do it to pay everyone back for the mounds of little treats that I frequently receive.

Anyway, here's a quick video that I snapped of the two guys in action. One of the funniest bits was the guy's sidekick. His English wasn't very developed, so he simply repeated the last word of just about every sentence that the other guy spoke. Pretty good stuff.

Well by the time we finally made it through the solid maze of capitalism and found the cathedral, a steady stream of people were walking back our direction. I assume that meant that a mass had recently concluded. I had read a bit about the cathedral before hand. It is over a hundred years old, and is the first catholic cathedral built in the country. I was unpleasantly surprised on our approach to the landmark, however.

It was apparently under construction, covered in cloth and looking quite unfortunate. A picture of a cathedral was drawn onto the fabric. Wow. The interior was still nice, although it wasn't the grand fusion of Korean and Gothic architecture I was hoping to see.

(According to the CIA Factbook, South Korea's population is 26.3% Christian)


Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988, and it proved to be a significant event for the country. It made South Korea the second Asian country after Japan to host the event. The intense scrutiny being experienced by China now probably has a parallel in the spot light aimed at Korea's totalitarian regime at the time(some Olympics-related criticism of China, if you haven't heard any in the last 5 minutes, can be found here). In 1981 South Korea won the right to host the games , but the country's first democratically elected president only took office in late 1987. Supposedly the country did it's best to make a smooth transition to democracy, so as to not spoil the world theater production that is the Olympics.

Anyway, I mention this because I was surprised at the references to the Olympics I could still find after two decades. The Olympic Park was listed in my travel book as a place worth checking out. During our many subway rides, I occasionally saw this cartoon animal depicted taking part in several different sports. He looked cheesy and colorful enough to be Olympics-related.

Turns out his name is Hodori, and he is the official mascot of the 1988 Summer Olympics. I should really be a detective or something.


A little something on present-day Japan. The cherry blossoms(sakura in Japanese) are beginning to bloom, and Japan is crazy about these things. The Japanese do something called hanami (pretty much translates to "flower watching"). I don't know that there's anything particularly special happening, but people like to get together and eat and drink under the trees. Can't argue with that.

Here are some kids pounding their little drums with reckless abandon.

A day or two before we left for Korea, it was the plum trees' turn to blossom. Back in the day (pre-Heian Period) it was the plum blossoms that were popular, rather than the cherry ones. So we kicked it old school style and had a little picnic under the trees.

When Mike gets that dreamy look I think he's really trying to remember the names of all the Pokemon.


  1. I like bibimbap. I live in Los Angeles which as the largest Korean community outside of Korea and I eat at some authentic Korean restaurants near my house. Do you know the hot stone bowl bibimbap? It is bibimbap that they put in a super hot stone bowl so the rice and other things get kind of baked and crunchy on the sides and it stays hot a long time.

    Super good.

  2. tornados28, we did have bibimbap in those stone bowls, and I am also a big fan. Crunchy baked rice is one of the best things ever. Unfortunately, despite the constant supply of rice it doesn't happen a whole lot in Japan, unless you are at a Korean-style restaurant of course.