Monday, July 06, 2009

Korea trip - Day 8: Kim-chi. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

I’m having a serious case of baseball withdrawal. Internet access is too expensive to pay for every day at the hotels we’re staying in, and following MLB here is nearly impossible without it. I have no idea what the Red Sox have done the last couple of days. The last game I know the results of was the Sox 11 inning win over Baltimore. I’ll have a lot of catching up to do when I get back home.

It was also really weird being away from home on the 4th of July. It’s just another day here. I missed the usual Independence Day festivities, especially the fireworks.

Today we had breakfast at a buffet in the hotel restaurant. It was mostly Western-style food (eggs, home fries, pastries, cereal, fruit and such) with a few Korean items thrown in, including kim-chi.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with kim-chi, it’s essentially pickled cabbage (or other vegetables) and is considered a Korean staple. I first heard of it on the classic M*A*S*H episode where Frank Burns thinks a group of Koreans are burying mines, only to find out that they are burying kim-chi pots. I never got around to actually trying kim-chi until the first time we came here to pick up J. Turns out that I love it and I have been eating it at home ever since. I have eaten quite a bit of it since we came here and numerous different varieties, including versions made with cucumbers and radishes. However, I don’t think of it as a breakfast dish, so I passed when I saw it on the buffet.

We spent most of the day at a water park near our hotel called Waterpia. It’s similar to the Cocoa Keys indoor waterparks in the U.S. They had water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river and other things. The kids had a great time. They do have some adult stuff like hot tubs, a spa and such, but we tried to be available for the kids as much as we could, so we didn’t get a chance to spend much time at them.

One thing about this place was fairly ingenious. When you pay your admission, you are assigned a locker number. At the first locker, you leave your shoes and take a plastic key on a wristband. Then you pass through the turnstiles and go to a locker room, where another locker with the same number opens with the same key. You can leave the rest of your stuff here. Then they key functions as a charge card. You can pay to rent things like inner tubes or life jackets or buy food. It appears to work similar to the Mobil Speedpass, where you place the key near a target pad that scans it. This is very convenient, since you don’t have to carry cash or a credit card in your bathing suit. The kicker is that you have to scan your key to get out of the place. If you don’t settle your bill, the turnstile won’t let you out. We actually saw this in action. One of the kids with us thought his mother had paid and she hadn’t, and the turnstile stayed in place. It’s very clever, but dangerous, since it essentially lets your kids run up a tab while they’re in the park!

After finishing at Waterpia we headed back to the cable car up one of the mountains in the national park I mentioned yesterday. Unfortunately, since it was still cloudy up at the top of the mountain we couldn’t see much more than 10 yards in front of you. Still, the cable car ride was fun and very smooth.

The next stop was the Il-Dong fish market. This is a major port in the northern part of South Korea (we were also about a half-hour drive from the demilitarized zone). The specialty there is stuffed squid – I took a picture of some, which I’ll post on the Flickr site. According to our guide, this is the only place in Korea you can get stuffed squid. We weren’t all that adventurous, passing on the stuffed squid and the vast variety of other fish in the market.

In fact, we were pretty much the opposite of adventurous tonight as most of the group ended up eating at Popeye’s Fried Chicken in an E-Mart store near the fish market. E-Mart is owned by Samsung and is similar to a Wal-Mart or Target. The visit to E-Mart did enable us to stock up on snacks for tomorrow’s 6+ hour drive to Busan tomorrow.


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