Korean drama playing on the TV. An old man watching beside me, seven little empty plates and metal chopsticks on his table. She comes over and I point to the first item on the menu, characters I can’t read. Soon, this charming little hole-in-the-wall restaurant run by my new favourite two ladies becomes a nightly routine for me. Every evening, after stumbling about in a daze in this loud, booming, energetic city, I come back to this place of solace, just a few steps away from my hotel. And every night, after picking a random item on the menu, she brings me a big jug of water, a little paper cup, and seven little plates of delicious random goodies. The first night, I got a spicy fish soup, with side dishes of kimchi cabbage, seaweed, potato salad, and some intriguing green vegetable. The second night, a scrumptious bowl of rice with cucumber slices and fried egg. I eat slowly, savouring every mouthful, while writing in my journal between bites.
My hotel is tucked away on a tiny street near Yeonsan station, run by three brothers (or friends), each with matching haircuts and plain black sweatshirts. The wallpaper in my room has cows, cows and more cows. At reception and in the hallways, is Harry Potter music, always the same suspenseful segment. (I guess they just really love Harry Potter).
The city is well-connected. On Tuesday morning, I take the subway to Jagalchi Fish Market, sitting next to men and women retirees, who wear colourful hiking clothes and talk gaily. Young people on their smartphones, texting and gaming. I get off the subway and wander through rows and rows of red and yellow umbrellas. Live octopus, eel, crab, and mussels, and the occasional stray cat. Puddles on the ground. Fishing boats and fishermen, back from a long haul, sleeping on the ground. The smell of the ocean.
I eat lunch at a food stall in BIFF square – gimbap, green onion pancakes, fried dumplings with glass noodles and a hot broth of some kind. The woman is friendly and motions me to move out of the sun.
Later, I find myself at Dongbaekseom Island. High rises overlooking the ocean. Rough waves and crashing ocean, rising, falling. All-you-can-eat seafood buffets. Tour buses and school outings, screaming kids running past me on the island hiking trail. Meagre greenery and forest, eaten up by the Westin Hotel and Trump Towers. I’m dizzy and overwhelmed in this big city of tall buildings and flashing neon signs.
I’m in a cafe now. Smooth jazz on the speakers. Ella Fitzgerald and my soymilk latte. Spacious couches. Big gulps of time to sit and be quiet. Ah. The best part of the day.