So I nearly a month spent a month here and I know so much more about Koreans than I did before. It’s been a wonderful journey through the country and I think if I ever get the chance to come back I should do so towards springtime and see what other beauty it has to offer.
I have not done much in Seoul over the last six days, part of me is slightly toured out, was tying not to spend money and I really just did not really want to deal with the streets of Seoul too much. However I have been staying in a really nice hostel and if you come to Seoul I would advise you to stay here too. I have been treated very well by the Korean people I have had interactions with. In the loud banging nightclubs in the Hongdae area I received a lot of compliments about my beard and piercing and was accepted or at least tollerated. I have never before encountered so many men who have told me that I am handsome. I am sure homosexuality exists in Korea but when they tell me I’m handsome it’s not to ask me out for a mandate. Korean men are not shy to treat another man like their brother or very close friend within minutes of meeting them. They will openly attempt to hold your hand, bump hips or pat your bum with no underlying sexuality there which for me was a little odd at first but I got used to it. Yes Korean men and I’m sure women treat their own sex with this sort of behaviour all the time, they have no problem being naked in front of one another and I find this quite beautiful and slightly disturbing at the same time. Once you learn to relax about it all becomes perfectly normal.
Much like a Japanese sento Korea also has similar spa like public baths called jilljimbang, yes I laughed at the name when I first heard it too. The setup is virtually identical to Japan and cost around 5,000 won (about £3), again you get completely naked and take in a small towel with your soap or shower gel. In all of the public baths I have been to in Korea they had towels and usually soap you can use for no extra cost. This has made me a lot more comfortable with my own body all in all, sure of course in the spas I get stared at but this happens everywhere I go and I don’t see it as an issue.
Over the last few days I have had a really nice time with Koreans. Luna, one of the owners of the hostel is very happy to suggest, take and even join you for dinner if you like. After all the Korean way is to eat with friends and if you eat on your own it’s deemed a little odd but when your solo travelling of course you often have to eat alone. I’m going to tell you that Koreans also like to drink. This does not mean I am labelling the whole country as alcoholics but you will rarely see Koreans eating without it being accompanied by their most popular national spirit Soju. Soju is a clear spirit with a slight aniseed taste and clocks in at 19%. You normally drink it in one of two ways, neat as a shot (in one) or you can put it in a glass with beer on top for a soju bomb. Similar to Japan you are not supposed to pour your own drink if your out with friends, there is actually a very specific way you should pour and receive a drink. Of course this can lead to lethal nights out where you constantly have a full shot glass and are encouraged to clink and drink with a hearty ‘geonbae’. Koreans also (generally) order a side dish when they are drinking too, it’s part of the culture and who am i to argue when their food is scrummy, when in Rome as they say…
I have no idea what sort of experience you would have if you are a fussy eater. Vegetarian dishes do exist (like bibimbap) and they are delicious but Korea loves their meat and the spice levels for me are good. I did have this awesome (normally unspiced) ginseng chicken soup (called Samgyetang) in which you get a whole small bird that has been stuffed with rice and boiled in a pot of delicious flavoured broth. Some of the most delicious chicken soup I have ever tasted and no doubt really good for you, yeah I have been eating my way through Korea and probably put some of that weight back on. Last night was a real experience though.
There is a delicacy in Korea of eating an octopus dish called sannakji where the octopus is served fresh and raw, so fresh in fact its still moving on the plate when you get it. Eating this particular dish requires a great deal of determination in trying to get it onto Korean chopsticks which are flat and made of metal so much more slippery in the first place let alone if your food is actively trying to escape from you. If that was not bad enough there have been reports (not rumours) of people dying from eating sannakji because the suckers on the tenticles can get stuck in your throat and choke you. By now you might be thinking.. Chris, you didn’t? Too bloody right I did and I survived to tell the tale. Life is enhanced by these experiences and I feel and you probably should try to experience as much as your comfortable with. I even made a little video of it!
So yeah I survived, either that or I am continuing to blog from beyond the grave. What was it like? Well it was sort of like eating chewing gum with a softer texture and octopus taste. You dip the octopus into a sesame oil sauce before putting it in your mouth and chewing for an extended period of time. In all seriousness I actually quite liked it, something odd and new. So that’s it from South Korea, thank you to everyone who has made it feel special, too many people to name. I am posting this back in the more familiar setting of Japan. Look out for another update coming soon about my second arrival here which was in itself an adventure.