I met my friend Doyu outside of Myeong-dong yuk (Myeong-dong subway station). We were going to practice my Korean and her English and check out Namsan. Namsan is a small mountain in the middle of the city; you can hike up it but, seeing as how I went hiking all of yesterday, I was happy to ride the cable car. At the top there is a stunning view of the city; apparently its best seen at dusk when the lights of the city are starting to turn on.
We walked towards the cable car and decided we had some time to kill looked for a place to grab a bite. The nice thing about finding food with a Korean is you can order without the pictures! Usually those restaurants are the most authentic and have the best food too. My choices were “hot food” or “cold noodles.” I always prefer my noodles warm so opted for a hot meal. We grabbed a table and the menu was quickly delivered. It appears to be pretty common in Korea for one menu to be provided for the table, unlike at home where everyone gets their own. Not that it mattered because the whole thing was in Hangul text without any pictures. Doyu translated the options and I decided on a rice dish with sushi on top, hwe bibimbap.
Next up I had to learn how to order it. I knew enough to say duge juseo (bring 2 please) but I had to practice hwe bibimbap. It took a few times but once Doyu said my accent was good we called the waiter over. Hwe bibimbap, hwe bibimbap, I must have said it 10 times under my breath to make sure I didn’t mess it up. The waiter arrived and out it came, “hwe bibimbap duge juseo.” He stared at me blankly. I said it one more time and pointed to the menu. Still nothing. Doyu jumped in said what I thought I had just said. That time he got it.
Oh well, I tried to order at least. The food came relatively quickly; a bed of rice with veggies, seaweed and sushi on top. Its really just a few chunks of raw fish as opposed to sushi I was used to. Before eating we mixed in a sweet & spicy red sauce and tasted the banchan (sides). We had kimchi, dangeun and oi kimchi (carrots and cucumbers). They were alright but the soup was fantastic and our hwebibimbap even better! Finishing our meal we checked the time; 2 hours until sundown.
After paying we made our way over to the cable car; it should be a short ride up the mountain; unfortunately there was a hidiously long line to get on the cable car. After waiting for about 20 minutes we passed a sign in Korean saying we were only an hour and 20 minutes from the car. Oh joy. Well we certainly had time to practice our languages. I helped Doyu with an English translation and she broke out what looks like a coloring book for a 3 year old. Upon closer inspection it was clear that this was the book she mentioned to help me learn Korean. Unfortunately it doesn’t come with phonetics for the letters. Good thing I’ve got a Korean with me!
I knew most of the single vowels by now and a handful of common consonants. With Doyu’s help I was able to learn a few new words but more importantly a poem to work on my vowel pronunciation. “a, ya, oe, yoe, oo, yoo, u, yu, ei, i” Yeah doubt any of you back home have any idea how to pronounce that because I’m not even sure I’m saying it right let alone translatiing it into arabic lettering phonetically. Before long we were through the crowded lines and on our way into the cable car. They crammed us in like sardines and I was certainly glad for ventilation.
A quick ride over the forest brought us to the top. The sun was nearing the horizon and providing a pretty pink hue in the clouds as our shadows grew even longer. We had some more time before it was actually dark so I practiced my poem and made up a tongue twister to help turn Doyu’s Engrish into English. L’s and R’s are quite difficult for most Koreans so I had her say “Little Larry likes licking large lollipops.” It was about as dificult for her as my “a ya, oe, yoe, etc.” but by the end she wasn’t mixing up the L’s and R’s. We laughed at our inability to really understand each other and made our way around the pavilion up here.
There were hundreds if not thousands of others awaiting the sunset; kids playing in the fountain, adults playing in the fountain (I almost went in too but didn’t want to get my camera wet), couples adding new locks to a massive display of modern art. All over the railings were hundreds of thousands of locks some with sayings, perhaps vows, others just a fun picture or qwerky design.
Peering over the railing the city just goes on and on forever. There are mountains in the distance but you can’t really see where the buildings stop; even from this massive vantage point in the center of the city.
Slowly the sun crept down beneath the horizon. One by one the lights of the city came on. Then ten by ten and then suddenly the sky was black and the city erupting with multi-colored lights proudly showing the fervor this city retains well into the night.