Yesterday we had our first scheduled day off and boarded yet another bus to take the nearly 3-hour road trip into Seoul. Much of the trip went through the rural mountainous Korean countryside; tunnels are the common pass-through in the mountains–a misfortune for anyone who feels anxious in enclosed underground spaces.
Our first stop was Insadong, a tourist ‘go-to’ street lined with souvenir and indigenous arts and crafts shops. Some of our group found a cat cafe (it’s exactly as it sounds), where they had a chance to get their “the kitty I left behind” fix among the 15-cats who live fulltime in the third-story walk-up. We then rendezvoused for a beef bulgogi lunch (veggie bibimbap for the rest of us).
We made one last stop at the National Souvenir Store to pick up official Olympic branded items. There was a huge run on stuffed animal versions of mascots Soohorang, a white tiger considered Korea’s guardian animal, and Badabi, an Asia Black bear. Personally, I’ve got a thing for briefcase-sized umbrellas and now have a red logoed extra for the backseat of my car. One of our group confessed she bought a hand-held Soohorang mirror in a “panic-buy.” What might have been a useless tsotski is now our flat-Stanley carry along. (Look for him in future pics.)
Our final stop was the War Memorial of Korea where we had a tour of the Korean War exhibit. I felt it particularly resonated with us given our heightened awareness of North Korea these days. Two of the more memorable artifacts were one of General MacArthur’s signature corncob pipes that had been left behind and a rusted chain used to tether North Korean soldiers to their machine guns so they couldn’t flee.
The day culminated with a pick-up at McDonald’s of 33 burgers and 33 fries. (Those of us who ordered ‘veggie’ enjoyed a veggie burger minus an actual veggie burger.)
Finally, speaking of food- that has been a challenge for several students on this trip. All meals (regardless if it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner) include white rice, a broth/soup of some kind, and kimchi. Otherwise, there may be some variation of a beef or pork dish and perhaps a pickled root or radish. The food at the Biathlon Arena is surprisingly good as you can sometimes find a green salad or tangerine at your meal. Today they served Coca-Cola (thank you Olympic sponsor). Dessert (as we know it) is never served and I’m still adjusting to the toilet-paper square sized napkins.
By Gina Daddario, Professor and Chair of Mass Communication, Posting from Seoul, Korea