Friday, July 21, 2006

3 Hunting for 'Koppee'

So, Hardworking Hubby has been living her for almost six weeks but has survived on a diet of either business entertaining or convenience store goodies. His preferred Family Mart snack is a pot of instant noodles with an egg cracked in the top - YUCK. There ain't no way I am eating that kind of muck. And even more important than food is getting a good coffee first thing in the morning. In Korea it is called "Koppee" because there is no sound for "f".

Yesterday I had a long search for fresh "Koppee", but was unsuccessful. Even after cunningly stealing some extra coffee bags from under the nose of the room service girl this morning, I knew that we had to do better than that, so today I tracked down the nearest supermarket to us, which is located in the basement of the very, very high end Hyundai Department Store.

My goodness this is an expensive place to live.... last night we stopped in Itaewon area on the way back to the car and bought a small box of Kelloggs bran flakes, 6 bananas and a litre of milk and it cost 9 US dollars. Even after by-passing the banks of perfume and handbags on the way to Hyundai's food court I was prepared to be shocked. Some things are really bad. Olive oil there was US$22 a bottle, fresh koppee was not even on sale (panic), a small box of fresh tomatoes were US$9. Dear me. So I just spent 50 bucks on some fruit, splashed out on a small pot of Pesto and some pasta and then wandered into the adjacent food court trying to sniff out the dumplings.

The food court is full of about 200 different dishes which are all utterly unrecognisable (even the ingredients are so out there that I have no idea what they are - seaweed or tripe, for example, an important diffference to distinguish). I literally sniffed my way around until I got to the familiar odour of soupy noodle dumpling things and pointed at one of the congealed sample dishes. It was pretty yummy although I have decided that small dried fish stirred into anything don't really add much to the dish. Normally I wouldn't put them in, but I have made a promise to myself to be a bit more expansive in my food experimentation here and so I added a few to my soup, ate one and then removed the remaining bits with my chop sticks. Ugh, hate them.

Finished my soup, went to the poshest supermarket toilet I have ever seen which had silver tiles and self flushing loos, and on leaving the establishment, spotted a coffee place with fresh coffee beans on sale. I am now typing with a mug of freshly ground and brewed "Jazz" filter coffee at my side and I am a much happier girl, I can tell you. The coffee cost 30 dollars for one bag, but to off-set this huge outlay, they gave me a free box of dairy creamer..... nice!

2 Life among the Koreans Day Two

I woke up as a bell went off in my room. I didnt know what time it was, or if this was my wake up call, mobile phone or door bell! Totally confused then realised it was room service. Before I could say anything, she had let herself in to see me naked staggering around the room. I think she said, " Oh sorry I will come back in a minute" but cannot be sure, as it was all in a torrent of fast Korean which I am sorry to say I am far from mastering at the moment.

It was 10.50am. Late to wake up.

Found one disgusting coffee bag (who ever thought that coffee could be made in the same way as tea? They are COMPLETELY different drinks) and make the most pathetically weak cup of coffee ever. There is only one coffee bag in the apartment - not enough to get me started really.

Husband phones on my new mobile. The ring tone is set to start with a horse whinnying and then a kind of jolly country and western number. I try to re-set it but the phone seems to be in Korean and I can only get into the call register menu, seemingly no matter what button I press.

I am to meet him for lunch.

I retraced my steps of the previous night to the underground and bought a ticket to Yeoksam Dong, just two stops away. To get there I had to walk through a massive paved square full of stark sculptures, like a massive linked pair of very veiny arms set in concrete. The square is above a huge underground mall called Coex, which features a range of rank looking fast food joints at the entrance to the subway.

The trains are massive and spotless and there are clean toilets on every platform - so efficient.

Get out of the subway and find my way to Star Tower, the font of our destiny in Seoul and where Hardworking will be putting in the hours while we are here. It is pretty smart, playing Schubert in the lobby and immaculately clean. I had to wait for a few minutes and watched the Koreans going in and out. They are all very business suited, Asian style. The men wear outrageous suits - a mixture of shiny suits or crazy pinstripes, with short legged trousers so that you can see their socks. My favourite was an Elvis-style business man with huge gold-framed shades and bracelet, white jacket and chequered black and white trousers over slip on shoes with a woven leather top. His hair was thinning on top and he had a slim, lit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth for the whole time I watched him. I wonder what on earth his life is like....

The girls are all wide hipped and slim, young ones wearing pretty floral dresses and cardigans in colours like pastel green, apricot and acid yellow. Older women wear kick-ass suits that look like they are straight out of Armani (and judging by the street of shops which we passed on the way back from Apgujeong the other night, they probably are. In about 10 mins we passed two Louis Vuitton outlets, Gucci, Armani, Hugo Boss, Escada, etc etc etc - all of them basically there on one road). The whole place exudes wealth, everyone looks really together and I have only seen one mad old lady on the subway who was walking along with a transistor radio around her neck begging. I havent seen any police yet, but I wonder what happens to vagrants in this part of town - reckon they might be "removed".

We found a dumpling restaurant around the corner from Hardworking's office and sat on chairs this time (Hardworking finds it very hard to cross his legs under a low table!). Delicious dumplings in a thin mushroom soup, filled with chopped pork and garlic and onion. My mouth is watering as I write this since we now have bananas in the apartment and i havent had lunch.

Strangest breakfast I have probably ever eaten, but we went to Coffee Bean afterwards for a reassuringly good coffee (agh, relief!). They call it KOPPEE BEAN on account of there being no "f" sound in korean.

In fact i am so hungry now I am going to take my phrase book out and try to order some more of this top Korean nosh.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

1 Just arrived

It has been four days since I stepped on real grass.

Flying to Seoul was great after my wonderful upgrade to business class on not one, but both legs of my flight - what a pleasant way to travel when you are used to the total shag of cattle class.

Our plane from London to Dubai was delayed so me and this cool old barrister from Melbourne drank Moet and chatted away on the runway for two hours while the staff fannied about fixing a small light that wasnt working. Drank so much Moet actually, that I suffered from a rather nasty hangover headache all the way to the middle east... lesson - don't get too excited about business class, you sad loser!

Hardworking hubby had run out of gas on the motorway trying to drive his brand new car on the wrong side of the road from the city he doesn't yet know to the airport, so he wasn't there to meet me. I called him on his mobile as he raced along, foot on the floor. He had driven half way around South Korea trying to find a) gas and b) Incheon Airport (which is disappointingly for him nowhere near the town of Incheon - I couldn't blame him really, an easy assumption to make!). Fortunately, a nice guy helped him back onto the right road by driving through Incheon for 15 minutes leading him back to the motorway.

We cruised the 30kms back into Seoul in no time in our new, sleek, corporate mobile. Compared to our old Mitsubishi truck this car is smooth! It is also very hard to find in carparks as it is exactly the same as all the other corporate mobiles on the roads - a black executive car. Boring but free, so who cares?

We got to our serviced apartment which has a big view of Kangnam-Gu district of Seoul then headed out to find supper. Hardworking as been here for nearly 2 months so I thought he might have somewhere in mind...

We went to Apgujeoung area which he had heard was cool, and had already been there once a while ago. I think we must have come out of the subway on a funny exit because it was pretty unremarkable at first sight. We wandered around and then came across a barbecue place which looked okay and still had some residual diners in it (so we weren't breaking our rule of never eating in a restaurant with no other customers).

It was delicious. Man, Korean barbecue is good. We sat on the floor on either side of a low table which had a cool stainless steel, shiny, mini-chimney sucky thing hanging down from the ceiling above our own little grill to hoover up all the smoke from the meat cooking. Hardworking hubby managed to order some meat and the waitress brought a whole heap of condiments, salads, soups etc for us to eat together with our meat tit bits. Bloody yummy and all washed down with a small bottle of Soju ( the local tipple made with potatoes apparently, not as mad as tequila, kind of like sweet Sake) and a couple of bottles of Cash beer.

Taxi back to the apartment for one more beer, like we really needed it but having so much fun being back together after 6 weeks of almost total separation, and to sleep. So knackereed that going to bed at the equivalent of 4pm made no difference and I slept through the night. Day one in Korea complete!