Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Parentals: Episode 2 - "I just can't get over..."

Day 2 Agenda:
A visit to my school
A trip to Home Plus
A walk by the river
Cheonggycheon Stream

*As a throw-back to my first time in Korea, and to acknowledge that the only people likely left reading this are family and friends of my parents, this “parental blog” will be, for the next three weeks, for the most part, a fairly simple travelogue. People back home are curious about what they are up to. If you see an underlined link, click on it to learn more about that particular place. For those of you who want to know what my parents are up to while they are here, read on! For those who aren’t curious, hit “favorites” on your toolbar and see what Brad and Angelina are up to.

It is now Thursday afternoon and I sit here at school with a break. I’m a tad worried, and here’s why…

Mom and dad decided to see one of the best sights in Seoul today – Changdeokgung – one of the two largest palaces in Seoul. To do this, they will be getting on the subway and bus system on their own for the first time. We did take the bus and subway a couple of times yesterday, but it can all be a bit confusing – especially in a city this big, and this different from the one my parents left three days ago.

The reason for my concern is that I believe they have left their cell-phone at the apartment. I did write down specific instructions of how to get to the palace and back, but you know how things can go wrong. The cell phone was their link to me, or my co-teachers, or Ian, or Bonnie, or someone who might be able to help get them pointed in the right direction should they get lost. Oh, man. I truly feel like a worried parent. I have nightmare scenarios running through my head of parents lost in the middle of downtown Seoul, not knowing where to go or even of who to ask for help. Curses.

I expect to see them when I get back, if not, I’ll see the windex and loose change in the driveway and assume that they got attacked by a pit-bull, and call the police… or something like that. They would understand. Anyway, not much I can do but hope they didn’t end-up climbing a certain hill in Itaewon. We shall see.

So – what about day 2? Well, as you can see from the agenda above, it was a busy one. I’ve been letting my parents hear suggestions and choose from a long list. They will be here for 3 weeks, but it will go fast and one of those weeks will be spent in Japan. Still, it’s important for them to remember, and for me to remind myself that they need to be eased into this thing. I don’t know that I’ve ever really experienced “culture shock” as it’s been described to me, but I do understand how odd it can all be when you travel somewhere so seemingly strange.

The school visit went well. We moved through the Middle School grade 1 (grade 7) hallway before homeroom and pandemonium ensued - kids surrounding them with cries of “I love you” and a hand or arm sign to match, and then showering my dad with praise about how handsome he is. Classic. The Principle and Vice Principal gave us a proper tea in the Principal’s office, and then it was home time.

Mom and Dad spent the rest of the day doing some grocery shopping at Home Plus, walking by the stream close to my place, and napping before we headed out for dinner.

I had been envisioning my parents entering Myeong-dong from exit 6 since the first time I did the same back in the fall of 2007. It’s madness. I suppose that cities bigger than Calgary have areas comparable, but I would imagine that it’s impossible to duplicate the collective zaniness that comes from Myeong-dong’s particular blend of commercialism run amok, strange street food, narrow alleyways, and lots and lots of money. Anyone who knows my mom, imagine her face at this moment and you are probably doing so accurately.

They loved Myong-dong – certainly not as a place to go back to for any length, but it’s an experience. It’s a piece of Asia that most of us Westerners have in our imaginations – all the neon and people moving frantically through thoroughfares much to small to accommodate the crowds. It was fun.

Sung Sook met up with us after dinner for a walk down Cheonggycheon stream – a very cool part of downtown Seoul and a place with a great deal of history. It’s a huge symbol of modern Seoul – urban renewal, honoring the past, and gentrification on a level likely similar to what’s happening in East Hastings to prepare for Vancouver 2010. There was a display at the beginning of the stream recognizing breast cancer awareness and a handful of musicians on our way down the stream towards Jongno-3-Ga station where we boarded a train for home.

That does sound like a lot to accomplish for two Canadian seniors on their first full day in Asia. In retrospect, they did well.

Still, I need to remind myself that so much of this will be new to them. Thinking that I wanted to get them some Korean food to get them started on the local cuisine, we opted for jim-dak, which is a lot like a spicy chicken stew. I ordered it to be not spicy, though it still packed a bit of a kick. It’s full of potatoes, chicken, onions, carrots, peppers, and flat glass noodles, and it comes with a side-dish of rice and a cold kimchi soup. It is not something I have often, but for people who haven’t tried it, Jim-Dak often becomes a favourite.

Turns out that mom had a bit of a tough time with it. Foreign food can have its foreignness increase simply because you are eating it in a foreign land. I have a strong feeling that had my mom been trying this meal in the comfort of her home, or my Canadian one, it would have been just fine, but here in Korea, food is understandably suspect to those who have just crossed the ocean. It’s good to know now that this will be a bit of a challenge for us – introducing Korean food slowly and falling back on the familiar when we just need to take a break. Western food is crazy pricey here though, and we’ll have to just pick our spots when trying to explore Korean cuisine further. It’s a tough balance – diving into the culture, but being sensitive to jet-lag, culture shock, and unfamiliar tastes and textures.

Oterwise, mom and dad enjoyed their first full day here very much. They were charmed by the school (though we’ll see what happens when they actually attend class next week ;), they really enjoyed the wackiness of one of the busiest parts of Seoul, and they were just generally impressed by the city. It’s what you likely imagine it is – two Calgarian seniors with necks craned, holding hands, smiles on faces and multiple cases of fill-in-the-blank: “I just can’t get over _________________!”

So, that was yesterday. School ends soon, and I’ll be heading home to see if my parents survived their first day in Seoul without me. If they did, they’ll have a big reason to be proud, and I’ll have less reason to worry in the coming weeks. I can’t wait to hear all about their time in the secret garden… finger crossed.

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