My family jokes around with me that I’ve been a forty-year-old man since the age of 16 because I would walk around the house, on a Friday night, in slippers, talking about what to bake and what book to read. No joke. Now that I’m a 20-something living in a foreign country, I think I’m starting pull a Benjamin Button in their eyes, and get slightly younger. Sure I still walk around my apartment in slippers, but it’s cold and I’m trying to not turn on the heat. That’s 20-something-like, right? Being cheap with utilities?
What exactly is a 20-something supposed to do on an everyday basis, though? Are we all supposed to drink coffee and be creative and have no commitments and run around in old cars across the country sleeping wherever we fall asleep and try to learn new languages and read lots of books and make life-changing decisions and create the next artistic masterpiece and stay healthy and go out at night and drink and dance and laugh? Yes. At least, that’s what I take this time to be as: a time to do. I hate to jump in the cliché taxi to corny-ville with the Nike family, but “just do it.”
Sure some days can become grind-like (see: cleaning, running, errands, working… blah blah blah), but it’s that 20-something energy and curiosity and insatiable appetite for adventure that gets me out of my slippers into the subway on my way to a new part of Seoul.
Last Friday I just plain had it with being “productive.” No more reading, studying, or cleaning. I wanted to be selfish and go explore. So I opened up my beaten-up Korean travel guide (listen up – it’s really smart to grab a travel guide for wherever you live) and whatever page it landed on, I was in for.
That brought me to the Korean Folk Village in the middle of the city, right at the Northern end of Namsan park. I had wanted to go there for a while, but I’m glad I didn’t make it there until Friday because the Fall foliage made the place so much more iconic. That and the fact that when I walked into the village, two Korean girls ran up to me and asked, in broken English.
“You have time?” “Yeah, of course. What’s up?” “We have mission. Complete. We are hungry. Foreigner.” I took that to mean “We are on a scavenger hunt and we need a foreigner to help us to complete this mission. If we get this one done, we get to go eat for free” (I’ve gotten pretty good at translating broken Korean-to-English English). They grabbed my bag, ran over to a line of people, and pushed me in. “Hana, Dul, Set” – and we were jumping rope. It was a line of about seven people, me being the only foreigner, trying to jump rope together, ten times, all while someone took our picture. Cheese.
The rest of the time I was in the village, I had this big stupid grin plastered on my face. Random events are just so delicious sometimes.
And they kept coming. Take for instance the festival I stumbled upon in city center. Or the ceremony that was happening with baby children walking around in hanbok. Or the performance art happening right in the middle of the traditional tea ceremonies in the same festival. It was random. That’s the best and only word for it.
When I got back from the Korean Folk Village, I ran into a friend whose phone I had been using for the past two weeks. We decided that we should turn it back in, because I just didn’t want to pay for a plan (so 20-something right – being phoneless, that is). What’s of note in this random event is that as he was getting up to leave the cell phone store, the cell phone guy handed him a bunch of money for some reason or another. Instead of questioning, I simply said “Let’s go to lunch. You can pay.”
“How do you feel about sushi?”
“How I always feel about sushi: great.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to this place down the road, but it’s never open after work. How about right now?”
“Again, I love sushi. Let’s go.”
In Korea, so far, the restaurants haven’t been the most aesthetically pleasing. I have a few anthropological guesses about the reason, but the main point is that most places look like cafeterias without the buffet line. You don’t tip, and a lot of the sides are self service. Not this sushi place, though. This place was dimly lit with dark wood, big booths, jazzy music, and swanky. The menu was placed on the table, along with pearl onions, ginger, wasabi, soy sauce, and miso soup. I didn’t even make a motion for the menu, and let him order everything.
It might have been his hunger or his satisfaction that he was finally in this restaurant that encouraged him to order three things. Whatever it was, it was appreciated and it was a salad, a huge plate of sashimi over rice, and another plate of a darker, sweeter sushi. “Take out your camera now.”
This sushi was some of the better I have had anywhere. It was that hearty flavor of fish, but smooth like slightly-melted butter fresh out of the oven on toast that your grandmother makes every morning. Every piece of sashimi had their own bold, distinctive flavors – unlike most sushi. The tuna tasted like tuna. The trout tasted like trout. And the salmon. Wow, the salmon. Savory, deep, rich, smooth, almost sweet. Wow the salmon.
What I’ll take away from this wonderfully random day is three-fold: Go forth and just do it, unlimited miso soup just gets in the way of eating more sushi, and the black sesame makes an amazing salad dressing.