One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Monday, May 30, 2011

Petite Atlantis: UNCOVERED

If you're looking for a transient escape from Korea (as some friends and I were) then "Petite France" in Seoul can certainly satiate that appetite, both in a figurative and literal sense of the word.  While most restaurants advertise French and Italian cuisine, don't let the combination throw you. We ate at a restaurant called "La Trouvaille" and shared a Camembert and apple pizza (a sweet and savory flavor that was outstanding!), Shrimp Spaghetti Rose, and a ham and emmental tarte flambee.

Prior to leaving, I had scoured google search results (in vain) to find details or directions for Seorae Maul (서래 마을)- the allusive French village in Seoul.  There isn't a wealth of information about the area- a strategy, I'm guessing, to keep this intimate side street village from becoming a tourist mob scene.  

What I knew:   From what I could gather online, there was a fairly sizable French population living in Seoul (supposedly 60% of the French population in Korea lives in this one neighborhood)... and as you know, where the French are to be found, so is good food and wine.  And that, my friends, I was willing to scour all of Seoul to find. 

What I thought I knew:   Getting there would be a cinch!  After all, the directions online were rather easy.

What I found out:  The directions online were rather vague.  I began to question if it existed at all.  But alas! We found "Petite Atlantis: the Lost Village of Culinary Supremacy."  A nice man who spoke some English pointed us in the right direction. I'm afraid that we would have never found it without his help. 

The ambiance, though subtle and not entirely French, was not Korean.  So what is it about this area that gives it a uniquely French identity? We saw only a handful of people speaking French so I couldn't attribute the ambiance to that necessarily.  Some street and restaurant signs were written in French; but even that was such a small detail that if you didn't know to look for it, you could very well miss it.  There's a school, Lycee Francais de Seoul, for the locals, but it was closed and dark while we were there.  
Example of one of the street signs we saw. Watch out! Don't get towed!

I tried to put my finger on it and I believe it boils down to one word: leisure.  As Americans, we don't truly understand leisure.  Koreans understand it to an even lesser degree.   There was a slowness to Seorae Maul.  The air wasn't as thick with people rushing about; and as they ate and drank they did it, not as a means to an end, but as an end. 

Several reviews online said they were disappointed to find that this neighborhood didn't offer much.  I have to wonder what they were looking for.  Perhaps a minature Tour D'Eiffel or a French painter wearing a barret? I was pleased enough to sit on a terrace on a warm night, eating good food and wine, and sharing it with good company.  


Directions:   can take subway lines 3, 7, or 9. Get off at the Express Bus Terminal Subway Station. From there, take exit 5 (It's a long walk in the subway). You will walk straight out from the exit, on this nicely shaded walking path, tall apartment buildings will be on your right and the "river" (dried up) will be on your left.  You'll walk for about 10 minutes until you see a pedestrian crossing bridge on the left. It's big and tall. You can't miss it. Cross the bridge and take the stairs down to the left. Once you're at the bottom you'll take nearly an immediate right at the light. Walk about 100 yards and you'll begin to see signs in French. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Everyday I'm Shufflin'!

Shuffling like this is cool....

I've been rocking a more geriatric shuffle....

because ....

I have three lovely blisters on my right foot, one on my left, and calves that resemble rocks. Yay! ...

Last weekend Daejeon hosted their annual Barefoot Masai Marathon at Gyejok Mountain (note: they call any race a "marathon."  It wasn't actually a marathon, but a 13k. That's about 8 miles, my American friends).  

It was my first and, quite possibly, my last time running in a barefoot race .  The course itself was not terribly difficult.  A few stretches were uphill (as it was a mountain...) but there were quite a few long down hill reprieves.

What killed my poor feet was the path!  In the shade, the cool damp mud felt great!  But while the path was supposed to be comprised entirely of mud, sections of it more closely resembled sand paper. That, in combination with not being conditioned to run without shoes did a number to my feet. 

I don't know exactly how I faired in the race.  I was happy to have run it straight through.  But if I were to guess, I'd have to say that I probably placed in the top ten percent ...of the last three quarters. 

In Korea, whether you are in first or last place (and as you know, I was closer to the later), everyone is treated like an Olympian god.  Adjumas showered me with rose petals as I ran across the finish line. Then they gave me a medal.  I had flashes back to Mrs. Cathcart's 3rd grade class, "Good job, Jessie! You get a gold star for your effort!" 

I had heard that running without shoes changes your form. It's true.  At the start of the race I was bounding like an antelope.  My feet were free!- unburdened by my heavy, cumbersome running shoes.  I wanted to run down the trail with my arms flailing (I refrained to spare others a likely slap in the face.) Around mile 6, the spring in my step took a fleeting exit.  My calves felt like lead.  Running on the balls of my feet had taken its toll on my unaccustomed calf muscles. 

Sore calves and feet aside, it was still a really cool experience. Korean's make races into quite a production.  They had several performers before and after the race: a Nanta performance (stomp meets drum line), musicians, hip hop dancers, and a really cool taekwondo performance.  Black belts obliterated pieces of wood and apples on the ends of knives with their jump kicks and punches. It was amazing! 

I'd like to run another race again soon (maybe with shoes on this time). Now to only recover.. until then .. everyday I'm shufflin', everyday I'm shufflin', shufflin'!

Mud covered feet post run

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Children’s Day!

Korea has made it a national holiday! Every 5th of May is dedicated to the youth, the infants, the adolescents, the juveniles, the babes, the little tykes, the squirts, the youngsters, the whippersnappers, the kiddies, or to those who are just plan childish.

Parents give their children a gift and school is OUT!  So what did this mean for me besides a reason to act more like a kid?? …School was OUT!

A few of us spent our day of jubilance at the park near the river.  We rented bikes in the morning and then ate lunch in the park that afternoon. Daejeon, like a few cities in Europe (such as Paris), has a bike rental service as part of a “green initiative.”  There are stations scattered around the city.  You simply type in your cell phone number and your registration number and, Viola!, you have yourself a bike, fully equipped with bell and basket.  The first hour is free and each proceeding half hour is only 500 won (50 cents). Deal!
Joey on one of the rented city bikes we used. 

After a leisurely morning ride we ate ourselves into a food coma on hot dogs, deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, and sliced apples.  But man, what a way to go!

The girls

Much of the day was spent like this =) 

It was an absolutely perfect day.  We were fortunate to have clear blue skies and temperatures that touched into the 70s.  Parents and children wore their spring clothes and smiles for a day of bliss. The parks were full of kids on bikes, kids with painted faces, kids flying kites and helium balloons.  

Adults, too, were spotted on bikes, on roller blades, playing ball games.  So that led me to wonder... is a child's happiness  so infectious that it brings out our own?  Do we need a day devoted to childish behavior to tear us from our habitually desensitized adult behavior?   

 I told my mom that Children's Day was one holiday that needed to come back to the States (I'm keeping a running list) My mom replied, "What makes you think that every day isn't children's day?"  That statement might hold water in the U.S., but Korea is another matter.  

First, gift giving holidays like birthdays and Christmas are on a much smaller scale. Kids might receive a gift or two.  The Christian population is fairly large in Korea, but Christmas is not commercialized as it is in the west.  It's a holiday that's celebrated quietly amongst couples and families.  As for birthdays, they are more heavily celebrated together on the lunar new year when everyone becomes a year older together. 

Second, kids work infinitely harder in school.  I've almost given up asking my students how they are at the start of class because the majority of their responses are, "Teacher, so tired!", "I'm fine", or "I'm bad!"  A few might say, "I'm good."  Even as elementary schoolers they go to private institutions after school to study and then home to study *more* until 11, 12, and 1 o'clock at night. Korea's test scores might reflect that kind of diligence ... at a price.  

Here's to the day that allows those aspiring doctors, lawyers, and CEOs to be just...children.