Paris in my Seoul

This week I seemed to have visions of Paris all around me, and I can’t say it was an unwelcome sight. My first bit of nostalgia occurred one morning when I was headed out for a run, and noticed a little mini Louvre pyramid which happened to be on a street corner directly across from a Paris baguette shop. Naturally, I stopped running to take a picture with my co-Parisian transplants.

After my moment of reminiscing, I was back on my run, but again I found myself stopping to take pictures. This time it was the beautiful scenery which caught my eye.

The rest of the week wasn’t particularly interesting save for one especially beautiful sunset one evening.

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As usual, pictures don’t do it justice.

Once the weekend rolled around, I drug Tim outside to explore. On the top of my list this week was the Noryangjin fish market. This wholesale fish market is 1,273,865 square feet, handles about 250-300 tons of sales/trade of marine produce daily, and it isn’t even Korea’s largest seafood market!

Moreover, the “high class” fish market is open 24 hours a day whereas the “general, frozen, and shellfish” markets are only open from 1 or 1:30 am to 10 pm. If you are either a night owl or early bird, you can also attend the 3 am fish auction which happens daily. And perhaps the best part is that you can buy virtually any type of seafood imaginable. How fresh is it? Well unless your are buying it dried, frozen, or already diced up, most all of it is still alive. You can then take you purchases to one of the many restaurants upstairs who, for a small fee, will cook and serve you your seafood on the spot!

As we strolled stall after stall, fish mongers would shout at us what they were offering and beg us to come have a look. They were always disappointed when we said we were just looking. We had to get our bearings first! Once we’d made a lap of the entire place, we headed upstairs to try to figure out how the restaurant thing worked. We weren’t sure if all of the restaurants offered on the spot cooking and whether we had to pick out from a list of what they would cook before buying. It turns out most the restaurants would prepare you food, and there were no rules – just go buy something fresh!

Tim and I headed back downstairs and ended up stopping at a booth where a man spoke enough English to communicate what we wanted to the fish lady. We asked for a crab big enough for two people, about 10-15 large prawns, and two sea urchins. When they rang us up, the man showed us the price. It said 150,000 KWN or $150! I indicated that I thought he punched one too many zeros into his calculator. He assured me the price was correct and explained that the crab alone was $139. Does it poop diamonds or gold?! Why is it so expensive? I didn’t say this, but I was thinking it. The fish lady kindly took the crab (who surely didn’t realize how close he was to the steamer basket) and placed him back in the tank. Instead, we took a smaller $40 crab. Live purchases in hand, we headed back upstairs.

The sea urchins were served raw, and I can’t say it really consisted of anything but a saltwater taste with a slight sweet note on the back. You more or less drank them. It wasn’t gross, but I can’t say I see the point. The shrimp was served to use “BBQ” style, which was just grilled, but sadly they seemed dry and overcooked. Happily, we had side dishes of chili paste, garlic, and lettuce which helped the little shrimps go down just fine. Finally, the entire steamed crab and two large scissors were brought out to us. Too eager to dig in, I forgot to take a picture. I wish I had because as Tim picked up a pair of scissors to snip off a leg, three waitress stopped, craned their necks in our direction, and stared at us in bewilderment. It was clear we had no idea how to de-crab a crab. Finally, one stepped over, hesitated, and then took the scissors from Tim. Within seconds she had cut open the body and managed to then take apart the legs. She started to work the crab meat out from each individual leg, but Tim assured we could take it from there. We did, but not without difficulty. My grip strength was not quite strong enough to cut through the larger pieces, and then can you imagine how much we struggled to dig out the meat with our metal chopsticks? We seriously thought of calling our Korean friend back in the US to coach us through crab and chopsticks. We didn’t though, and eventually we did get through that whole crab.

Seafood craving satisfied, we grabbed a cup of coffee to go, and then headed to see the nearby-ish French district called Seorae Village. About 500 French expats live in this quaint area, and you can even find local signs in Korean and French. We were actually hoping to live here, but it was just too far away from Tim’s work. Today I was really hoping to find a French cheese shop and maybe a wine shop, but no such luck. Instead, we did find some Musée d’Orsay worthy street art.

Once we arrived in the actual village, we were stopped by two Korean students who approached us and hesitantly asked, “Excusez-moi? Je suis étudiant et je dois faire un entretien des français. Pouvez-vous le faire?” Thrilled to be mistaken for a French person, I was happy to answer their questionnaire about the French. I’ll admit my answers were short and a bit cliché, but here’s what I said.

Q: What do the French like to wear?

A: Their style is classic, elegant, high-quality and they love black.

Q: How would you describe the French spirit?

A: They are open minded and they appreciate originality.

Q: What best represents France?

A: Wine, wine, wine (and cheese)!

Q: What are French people like?

A: They can be guarded and reserved, but among friends and family they are rather convivial.

After completing the questionnaire, I was then asked to go through it with the student while his friend filmed. At this point Tim thought he better point out that we weren’t really French because he was anticipating the French teacher seeing the interview and being horrified by the “drôle d’accent”. I did the interview without making any noticeable blunders and the students rewarded us with orange drinks of some sort.

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Coolly “Frenchin’ it up”

From there, we wandered around the village and into the local park set on a hill, and it became clear why this village full of hills is called “Little Montmartre.” It was nice having a bit of Paris in Seoul, now only if I can find the cheese and wine…

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