The world is a wonderful, if very wacky, place to be.

Posts tagged ‘Coex’

Seoul Watching

It turns out that if you hold a six year old upside down, she doesn’t instantly turn nine.

Aquila snoozed on the couch with a fever for most of the day, Sagitta has a cold, and Lyra is just fine, may she remain that way. Volucris returned to the War Memorial (he says that now he feels like he’s seen it) and Lyra and I went stir crazy trapped in our apartment with a bunch of sick people. Cloud Man helped as much as he could, which is how we came to the aforementioned insight, but he had… you know… work to do.

So since I’m stuck at home with some sick kids, let me at least show you where I’m stuck. Just for the record, none of the photos were taken today. Volucris had the camera and I had to keep sick people entertained.


We are staying in Coex, which is a giant conference center/mall/hotel complex on the south side of the Han river, which snakes through the city bisecting it. Most of the tourist attractions are to the north of the river (which, ironically is referred to as “downtown Seoul”) but most of Cloud Man’s work is on the south side, so we have gotten to know the subway very well (that’s another post). Everything anyone could ever want to buy is downstairs in the mall, including a lovely but impractical lime green leather handbag I’ve been eyeing. I could never wear it around my Vegan friends.

We are on the 23rd floor of the serviced apartments complex. There is someone from everywhere here, including a family I saw checking in that included more than one wife (we admired each other’s babies). Some people I meet in the toy room, like the Chinese woman who taught me a really powerful Chinese meditation technique. She was really evangelical about it, actually. I may have just joined a cult. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

(On the subject of evangelism, so far, two people in the city have tried to share “good news” with us. Once because the woman understood what the head gear on our men means, and in the other because she thought my little ones were too cute to go to hell. We could not communicate with either woman, but the second and I agreed in gestures that G-d is good. I think the literature she gave us (all in Korean, she wasn’t properly prepared to save English-speaking souls) is still floating around in my bag).

The apartment itself is largely Western (and as a result makes me appreciate local homes even more, with their wood floors, in-floor heating (invented in Korea centuries ago), recessed lighting and absolutely no shoes, ever.

As you can see, the apartment is largely unremarkable, all taupe and grey and inoffensive (except that painting in the hallway next to Volucris, which if we stayed here much longer would have to go). I love the apartment anyway, partially because of Mrs. Yoon, who comes daily to clean, and partially because the master bathroom is a slice of heaven (if you’ve never used an Asian toilet, you are missing out on one of life’s little joys. I don’t know why the electric toilet hasn’t caught on in other modernized nations. It’s so civilized). I also have a fondness for the steam sauna in the shower, especially with congested kids. Sagitta loves it.

What’s really amazing about the apartment, though, is the view. We can see clear across the city.

This is what Seoul looks outside our window, to the north of us.



You can see the Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple, right alongside the skyscrapers, with the giant mountain in the background. This is Seoul: old, new, and nature all side by side. You see those residential skyscrapers? It turns out that those apartments are much more expensive than those in the smaller buildings alongside them. Those skyscrapers are whole neighborhoods that often include an elementary school and a shopping center. You never have to leave the house. I completely understand the attraction, as someone who just moved from the country to the city largely because of the need for efficiency since Cloud Man travels so much.
The kids often sit on the window sill, watching the city.

It’s better than television.



Aside from hotels, corporate housing, an exhibition center, an aquarium, and a mall, Coex (we are staying in Coex) is home to the Kimchi Field Museum.

This one was a dud with the kids, even for Volucris, who can find something interesting in anything. There are only so many plastic models of someone else’s dinner you can look at before you begin to wonder why your mother dragged you there.

As it happens, I am feeling under the weather, and we all wanted to get out but stay close to home. The kids had more fun afterward in our building’s playroom, playing with the Wii.

I, however, found the museum fascinating, and not just because I’ve been doing some experimentation with fermented foods.

In Korea, kimchi is served with every meal. There are lots of different varieties of kimchi, and some don’t even contain cabbage. Kimchi is Korea, the same way Israelis identify with hummus and Americans with apple pie, only even more so. In some ways, Koreans see kimchi as the very underpinning of their entire civilization. There are folk tales that discuss “how we learned to make kimchi and became civilized”.

But there’s a foreign influence in today’s kimchi. And foreign is dangerous. (This isn’t just run-of-the-mill xenophobia. Korea has a history of foreign invasion that sounds remarkably familiar to anyone who has studied Jewish history).

You see… in modern times (modern meaning going back to the 18th century. Korea has an ancient culture), people have been adding hot peppers to kimchi. So much so that it’s become “traditional”.

But kimchi is Korean. And red peppers are not.

Much of the museum (and it’s not a big place) was dedicated to a talmudic-like discussion on why using a foreign interloper was acceptable in this most Korean of foods.
1. Kimchi already had garlic, and garlic is spicy, and hot peppers are also spicy, so it wasn’t such a radical change.
2. Red peppers turn the kimchi red, which is one of the traditional colors for food.
3. Red peppers increase the storage time of kimchi.

Who knew a simple ingredient could be so fraught with existential conflict?


Let’s mix some metaphors, shall we?

It's world famous for the name, alone.

Somehow, I’m not buying the “authentic” claim.

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