Following the day of wandering around a river and riding an elevator into the skies of Korea, Laurel and I were tired. Really tired. We sat in the café-gift shop looking at over-priced coffees and gifts that pertained not to the 63 building, but Korea in general, while trying to figure out what our next step was to be.
“We have two options. Go home and rest until dinner. Or, we go to that neighborhood I’ve never been to.”
“I want to rest. But let’s keep going.”
You’d think that this conversation might have taken about twenty seconds, but given our conditions, it took about twelve minutes. “We have two options (pause for a few minutes while gazing out into the yellow dusted skies). Go home and (pause)” You see how this goes. You’ve been there too, I know it.
With motivation surging through our muscles, we made our way to the neighborhood I’ve always heard about – Garosugil – after we were gifted a free Fanta in a convenience store. Thank you, Korea.
Garosugil is not a neighborhood, rather more of a long street, lined with trees and boasting impressive name brands, boutique stores, cafes that happily serve you seven dollar lattes. For more than six blocks you are confronted with beautiful store fronts and cafes overflowing with couples, cameras all over the place, accessory stores spilling onto the sidewalk, some street vendors selling fifty dollar wallets and underground stores that should be my wardrobe. There are plenty of restaurants ranging from Japanese Izakaya to pasta shop to sandwich store to school food. Upper class to provincial fare. More or less, it’s Europe in Seoul.
All along this leafy lined lane walked, sat, giggled, photographed, smiled, embraced, kissed couples. Couples everywhere. Korea really is the land of couples. On the subway you rarely see a person sitting alone and if they are alone, you’re almost always right if you guess that they’re on their way to meet their spouse. In a café, the loner in the corner is just waiting for their other half. Strolling, perusing, promenading, hand-holding, picture taking, iced-latte-sharing, these are the typical activities of couples in Korea. And in this little slice of Seoul, garosugil, it’s amplified.
Laurel and I, luckily (or not?), fit in. We were wearing something similar (the couple look is also huge here), we had the same hair color, complexion, and I occasionally held her purse as she tried something on (again, men holding the purse is completely…. required)), and we also almost shared a coffee.
But no! Instead, we went for the food. It had been more than a couple hours since our snack in the sky and I had read about School Food, a restaurant where they specialize in nothing but school-like food. I’ll throw some out there to see if you recognize them from your cafeteria menu reading days:
Ddeokboki, Ramyeon, Sundae, Mali, Twiigim, Naenmyeon, Lakboki
No? Doesn’t ring any bells of mystery meat and tater tots? Yeah, me either, but this stuff is delicious.
With Laurel’s love of noodles, it was easy to pick out our dinner – a mixture of spicy sweet hot sauce drowning out compact chewy rice cakes and ramen noodles, and cold buckwheat noodles spiced with a red paste all with some cucumbers, cabbage, shaved-ice-water, and scissors to cut the noodles into bite-sized pieces.
Sitting at a table for two amongst endless couples, going through three cups of water each, wiping our brows, we coupled the whole meal up and shared everything. With our bellies full, and our night coupled with delicious food, we set off to meet up with my next visitor – a college friend named Andrew. The next day proved to be as adventurous as this day and night were.