In the past few months, I have often been asked, “so, what are you all doing this weekend?” Not an unusual question at all, and one that many of you are asked each Friday. However, one day a friend of mine followed up with, “because I know you all always do something on the weekends.” It was probably the most flattering thing a person could say to me!
As I have mentioned previously, my goal for our time in Korea is to DO. To experience. To see. To taste. To explore. To photograph. To live. So, by my friend asking what our plans are, and knowing that the response will be something more than an average answer, was a validation of my effort to fulfill this goal. Sometimes I still feel like there is so much that I am missing out on, or I haven’t done enough with my time here, but then I look back at the past few months and realize how much we have experienced in a relatively short time. (I was mostly feeling that we weren’t doing enough when Jared and I went on a binge and watched 4 1/2 seasons of Breaking Bad in 2 weeks.)
However, this weekend we had no plan. Earlier in the month we had discussed going to visit the DMZ, but we decided we wanted to wait until it cooled down some. We didn’t have a festival on our calendar, or any markets we had to explore. Two of our friends planned to meet us in Seoul on Saturday, but they didn’t have any requests as to an itinerary. I looked into a few things on my list, but nothing really seemed “right.” So, instead of forcing ourselves into making a actual plan, we decided to just see where the day led us.
We decided to meet our friends in Itaewon, Seoul’s international neighborhood. The area is located between Yongsan Army Base and Hannam Village, which is housing for soldiers and their families. Therefore, it was originally mostly American soldiers who roamed Itaewon’s streets. However, now Itaewon is home to a large number of international expats who are not even remotely affiliated with the Army. The streets have plaques built into the sidewalk denoting a country and how to say “hello” in various languages. This mix of cultures makes the community a fascinating place to explore, and has almost any variety of international food you can think of. Turkish lamacun, Spainish patatas bravas, Indian naan, and, of course, a few American burger places. Itaewon is also a fun place to go shopping. There are a lot of leather shops, and even more stores with tailors begging men to buy a new suit. There are souvenir stores, brand names such as Vans and Reebok, and plenty more vendors happy to sell you a knock-off purse.
Our day started with lunch, and as we have been craving some Thai food, we decided to try Buddha’s Belly in Itaewon. We met up with our friends and climbed up one of the neighborhood’s steep hills to reach our dining destination. The restaurant is fairly small, but has more atmosphere than many places I’ve been to in Korea. It is the type of place that somehow manages to be rustic and sophisticated all at once. You can tell that someone has put forethought into every detail of the space: plaid napkins, ample natural lighting, and the most attentive servers I’ve had here. We all ordered the Chicken Pad Thai, which we discussed as being our measuring stick for all Thai restaurants. We were served a spicy broth soup as part of our meal. I don’t know the specific name of it, but it was fairly simple. It was a clear broth, had two chunks of mushrooms, and more spice than I knew how to handle. I could see all the red pepper flakes floating so innocently in the soup, but dove in anyway. By the time we had reached the bottom of our bowls, we each had paused our conversation at least once to cough and catch our breath from the spiciness of the soup. It was perfect. The Chicken Pad Thai was good; not the best I’ve had, but one of the better ones I’ve tried in Korea. It was a bit bland, which actually helped to cool my throat down after the soup. I’d probably return to Buddha’s Belly simply for the atmosphere and to order the soup so that I can build by spice tolerance.
We wandered into an antique store that had an impressive collection of diving helmets and telescopes. We also visited Eden Pottery, which had beautiful handcrafted tea sets and intricately painted vases. From there we wandered onto some side streets and found Prost, a calm and quiet pub at 2 in the afternoon that became a bustling bar after 8. We found a table by the window, ordered a few drinks, and simply relaxed and talked for over an hour. We meandered back into the sun for awhile, and then found ourselves in another bar for another hour. And this is how we spent our day (and our night too). Strolling through the streets and alleys of Itaewon (and hoping to remember places we want to return to later), then ducking into a pub for some sliders and drinks before venturing out again. Were there any epic, defining moments of the day? No, but it was a perfect Saturday afternoon/night.
I don’t think we could recreate the relaxed feeling of the day if we tried. Perhaps because we weren’t trying; there was no plan; we were just free to what happened. On a day with no plan, I actually achieved my goal better than I have with my trusty list- I just lived.