Japanistic Korea, take 2

I mentioned earlier about similarities between Korea and Japan. Oh yes, there definitely are some!

Both like the cutesy stuff, not just in toys.

So cute it almost makes me want to puke
So cute it almost makes me want to puke

Weird establishments. Need I say more?

Some things just cannot/should not be translated
Some things just cannot/should not be translated

Both countries appreciate weird flavors. Wasabi is pretty self-explanatory: the only surprise was the mildness. Blue on the other hand remained as a mystery besides the bright color.

Blue taste as like the Greek sea?
Blue taste: like the Greek sea?

Both adopt the Western consumerism and traditions: Christmas is the season to be consuming!

Save money by buying
Save money by buying

Genki seniors. Who said Korean elderly are not healthy? They should work out after all the barbecue and rice cakes…

The numerous public work out areas are mainly used by the elderly
The numerous public work out areas are mainly used by senior citizens

Oh, yes. The language and signs were different and the streets looked different, but strangely it all felt very familiar to me. Thank you Seoul for the entertainment.

Åland is next to Finland, Korea is next to Japan: we're all pretty close after all!
Åland is next to Finland, Korea is next to Japan: we’re all pretty close after all!
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Chim chil pong

No, the title does not refer to slot machine sounds even though slot machines can probably be found in some chim chil pongs. The term refers to a Korean spa, which in my case was Dragonhill Spa in Seoul.

Soaking, steaming and chilling for 24 hrs? Sure!
Soaking, steaming and chilling for 24 hrs? Sure!

This particular Chim chil pong was apparently one of the best in Seoul. It consists of separate bathing floors for men and women; in addition to 3 different temperatured baths, there was ginseng, herb and seasonal herb baths, massage bath as well as additional beauty services such as massages, body scrubs and hair removals that could be purchased for extra cost.

Directory of Dragonhill Spa
Directory of Dragonhill Spa

When entering the spa, you get clothes for the public area, and a locker key that works as money inside the spa. After soaking in the baths and enjoying the saunas (infra red and one that had mist spraying from the ceiling), most people go to hang out in the arcade, public space, cafes and various hot/cold rooms that are located in the common areas.

Christmas feeling and sleepy people
Christmas feeling and sleepy people

You can spend 12 hours in the spa with no extra cost, so people go there to hang out and spend time with family, sleep after going out to party, or to go on dates (some of the small rooms seemed to be very nifty for that purpose). Our initial plan was to sleep in the spa but since it was crowded (Saturday night) and home was near, we opted for a good solid sleep, though there was also a sleeping room for women only.

Spa tombs
Spa tombs

Going to chim chil pong is definitely worth it, since you get to experience the way Koreans spend time. It is a cheap option for hotel (12,000 won: approx. 10e) and definitely interesting! If you intend to stay for longer than 3 hours, I suggest bringing a book or something to occupy yourself with. During the wee hours of night, the atmosphere might get gloomy.

Koreans seem to share the Japanese ability to sleep anywhere, anytime
Koreans seem to share the Japanese ability to sleep anywhere, anytime

Spicy Korean life

Korea is known for its’ spicy food, specially kimchi. I think in most of the restaurants you get a free side of kimchi with your meal, which usually is not that expensive to begin with.

Side dishes to hotpot

The meal is a social event, where it is not uncommon to share, grill food together or to eat from the same small plates. Usually food is eaten with metallic chopsticks and a spoon. Scissors are used to cut meat and other food into pieces before serving.

Korean bar food: various fried stuff such as fish paste cakes, washed down with soju and magkeolli

 

Koreans eat a lot of meat. And by a lot, I mean a lot. However, it is possible to find non-meaty foods as well. There are numerous Korean barbecue restaurants, since meat is cheap and apparently rather good quality, too. And when Koreans go drinking, unlike in Finland, they order food as well. Healthy? Could be, if the food wasn’t all (deep)fried.

The bar food is similar, if not the same to the food that can be bought on the streets.

Tokbokki, fish paste and meat skewers and savoury pancake

There are food vendors and stalls in almost every street, and oddly enough most of them seem to sell the same stuff: rice cake stew tokbokki, skewers with fish paste&rice cakes and/or meat, savory pancakes, fried dumplings and the “sushi” rolls.  Generous amount of oil is used for everything, and most are probably rather spicy, too.

“street cooked” dinner, washed down with magkeolli (white fermented rice alcohol)

The “restaurant” stalls are also located in the various markets of Seoul, and in some streets and parks.

Market food
Market food

When a sweet craving hits, not to worry! On the streets, you can easily find the solution.

Fried “fish”cakes with sweet chocolate or bean filling

No pictures of the most famous sweet treat: hotteok pancake.

I wanted to end this post with the Korean equivalent of the Japanese “ittadakimasu” which can be translated to “bon appétit”. Unfortunately I have no clue how Koreans begin their meals.

 

Japanistic Korea

Seoul and Beppu are different like night and day (go figure: one has 1 Starbucks, the other has coffee shops for probably every third adult of the 10.5 million inhabitants). In Seoul, I found many differences between Japan and Korea, but the countries do have some things in common as well.

 

Incheon in the foggy frisk morning

Beautiful views

Traditional Hanok village

Beautiful architecture and history

Navigation (or passing a car) can be a challenge!

Small side streets with no names

 

My first meal in Korea: bimbap with free sides of kimchi, pickled daikon and Korean soup!

Similar, delicious cuisine

Schisandra tea with pine nuts

Appreciation for  high quality tea.

When it comes to tea, I definitely prefer the Korean one. The various possibilities: Schisandra, jujube, ginseng, and all the other other herbs: the variations and possibilities seemed to be endless! Japanese matcha and sencha are nothing compared to these various powerhouses. The bimbap, or Korean sushi, on the other hand was not that convincing. Usually the Korean sushi roll consists of spam/ham, surimi (fake crab) and mayo, which are not the ingredients I’d want to put on my roll. The nori is seasoned with some oil (grape, olive or other), and there is no soy sauce for dipping. The Korean soup is not as delicious as miso, but it comes for free with the divine kimchi and daikon, with refills! Point to Japan for this dish, point to Korea for the drinks!

 

Both of the countries also use a sign language I cannot understand. The difference is that in Japan I can at least read hiragana and katakana, whereas in Korea I had no clue what most of the signs or texts said. Luckily it is possible to manage without knowing Korean. For some reason, I automatically and accidentally spoke what little Japanese I can in the shops and restaurants. Maybe the numerous Japanese tourists had some to do with that, or then I am turning more Japanese than I thought I would.