Friday, July 24, 2009

Our last day in Daejeon...


Also wah, we are back in the City of Elusive Internet, so no pics at this time.

Tomorrow we leave for Pusan, which is on the southern coast of South Korea. From there, we fly to Osaka! And from there we take the train (probably a bullet train, vroom!) to Kyoto until the 28th. Then Tokyo until we leave on the 5th. Rosie and James are diverging from our path in the middle; they will start with us in Kyoto, detour for a couple days in Hamamatsu where our friends Marcus and Yuko live, and then rejoin us back in Tokyo on Sunday the....*checks dates* 2nd.

Still on track with our budget, fortunately. As of right now we're not planning to buy a JRail pass, preferring to be frugal with our train transportation. However, I'm thinking about Tokyo in particular and how best to get around there at least cost, and I may change my mind yet again.

So! Enough of the mundane details; let's recap our adventures from the past couple of days. As we were departing Seoul, we passed a pavilion with many people dressed in traditional Korean attire sitting around. They ushered us in pretty eagerly, so we shrugged and came on inside (removing our shoes first, of course). Turns out this was a sort of educational center and we were the brand new, very surprised students of a tea ceremony!

One lady in particular took us under her wing and showed us

  • how to sit on the mats
  • how to hold the tea cup (balanced on the middle fingers of your left hand and cupped with an L-shaped right hand),
  • how to make little sweet treats by pressing a ball of colored honey and bean curd into a wooden mold (it came out looking like little buttons)
  • how men kneel with their left hand on top of the right and women with their right hand on top of their left (and why)
  • how to sip tea three times--once for sky, once for earth and once for people
It was such a beautiful and unexpected interlude. We were all just shocked and delighted with how friendly and patient these ladies were, and the customs they imparted. They did not let us take their picture but we did get one of the four of us kneeling after the ceremony. Which I can't upload right now. Sorry to be a tease.

That wasn't our only unexpected encounter with friendly Koreans. Tavis, Rosie and I ventured forth at about 2:15 for lunch. This is sort of a problem because the entire country eats from noon until 1pm. The first couple of places we tried were already closed! How dare we get a late start on the day? Silly foreigners. Anyway, we reached this other restaurant that Rosie had tried previously and were welcomed so warmly by the hostess that I thought Rosie had known her for years. We had plate after plate of food:
  • two different types of mandu (yay Mom, I got my yaki mandu!)
  • a giant dish of cheese ramen, dok (tubes of the ubiquitous bean curd with a texture much like gnocchi) and slices of fish cake. Sounds wonky but tastes good.
  • a plate of their small yellow melon and slices of tomato
  • bowls of soup
Guess how much it cost. Just guess. Okay, not you, Mom and Dan, I already told you. It cost $8 for all of that. I'm telling you, this place has taught me that I am not to be trusted on a cruise--all that cheap food, my tummy is going to need its own plane ticket home. It's so worth it. (I am also packing on muscle in the thighs from biking around, so hey, there's that.) The hostess and her son (who teaches at a martial arts studio in Austin--small world!) were very friendly and chatted with us throughout our meal. So gracious.

After lunch, we went out to visit James and Rosie's garden plot, where they have some herbs and veggies. The heavy rain didn't do them any favors, sadly. However, on our way out, this group of three middle-aged Korean men sitting out and drinking soju for their afternoon break saw us and called for us to join them. We kept up a decent conversation--Rosie speaking her Korean, Tavis pantomiming and me smiling and nodding--over slices of fresh watermelon and tomato from their garden and cups of soju. I have been very fortunate to see only the generosity and kindness to foreigners; Rosie says there are some people, usually older people, who are distrustful or contemptuous of Westerners but I'm glad to have been exposed to none of that.

Today, while the boys played basketball and worked out, Rosie and I went to a sauna. Such a relaxing experience. You shower first, then you have your choices of cold, cool (with various types of massage jets) and the spiral of increasingly hot tubs. You also have the steam rooms, and these were exquisite--the walls and ceiling were completely studded in smooth semi-precious stones. Carnelian, jasper, lapis, aventurine, and chunks of raw amethyst on the ceiling. It was breathtaking; fortunately they pumped oxygen into the room so I got over it pretty quickly.

Totally mellow now. We have tentative meal and snack plans for this evening but I think it's going to be pretty low-key. Japan is going to be a big investment of energy and money. I very much hope to find an internet cafe close to each place we're staying to update further, but in the event that I don't....

Mehh. Insert profound summation of the peace and pleasure that we've found here. :)