My first full day in Korea was a national holiday. My plan was to go explore Gyeongbokgung, the national palace. But I got a little sidetracked.
I heard a huge amplified voice and a bunch of chanting and singing coming from somewhere, and decided to follow it and see what it was. Turned out to be a political rally, Korean and American flags everywhere and signs printed in Korean. I found a wall to sit on a little way back from the crowd and decided to see where it went.
Soon I was joined by an older Korean gentleman, who introduced himself as Choonmyun and explained in broken English (probably better than my Japanese) that this rally is to call for the ousting of South Korean president Moon Jae In. Why, I asked. What’s he done that’s so bad?
Why he’s ruined the economy, pushed away the United States and Japan, and is talking about peace with the North. Xi Jinping (China’s president) is laughing, he loves it! The young people, they don’t understand, they don’t remember how bad things can be. We must have Moon out now!
Hmm, interesting. According to Wikipedia, Moon is a liberal elected after the previous conservative candidate was impeached in a corruption scandal, who’s done things like substantially raising the minimum wage, reducing the maximum work week (to 52 hours from a jaw-dropping 68 previously), been aggressive about limiting the power of chaebol (Korean mega-conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai) and pushing for peace with the north as a route towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Sounds like exactly the sort of fellow I would vote for, frankly. Plus it doesn’t feel particularly respectful to travel to a foreign country as a guest and then promptly call for the downfall of their head of state. But given the context, I kept my opinions to myself and waved my sign as little as I could get away with.
(Choonmyun if you’ve somehow stumbled onto this blog, I’m really sorry that I wasn’t entirely truthful. It felt bad, but by the time I knew what I had gotten myself into it was too late up back out gracefully.)
The rally itself was interesting to see. Most of the attendees were older, and there were a lot of veterans. There was a lot of chanting and militaristic singing, and the rhetoric (as translated through my Korean uncle, as I’ve been thinking of him) was violent and angry but not necessarily well thought out. Moon is a North Korean spy, throw him in jail! America is a great ally! Let’s go kick Kim Jong-Il’s ass! Lots of slogans, not much nuance. So exactly like a Trump rally. I got a lot of first bumps and high fives just for being American.
Like most Trump voters I’ve met, my Korean uncle was an absolutely wonderful human being despite his politics. After an hour or two of sitting in the hot sun, we decided to ditch the rally and wander over to the big palace. It was really beautiful, a sprawling estate full of stately architecture and fantastic colors.
After the palace we decided (naturally) to go have a drink. He led me deep into the Insadong neighborhood then down a set of stairs that looked like a utility access point into a broad underground market. We passed tiny stalls selling everything from fresh fish to textiles to dried goods. We ended up in a tiny little restaurant in the corner that had clearly never even heard of an English menu, and he proceeded to order… something delicious.
A typical Korean restaurant meal consists of a bunch of appetizers (kimchee, sea weed, spicy bean sprouts, etc) plus a main dish. The apps are free and have infinite refills. The drink is called makgeolli or makkoli, it’s fizzy and sweet and you can barely taste the alcohol, and Choonmyun says its a cheaper way to get drunk than either beer or soju.
Before long I had to take my leave to get to my evening plans, but I made uncle Choonmyun promise to look me up next time he’s stateside.
In the evening, I went on a food tour. This is one of my favorite ways to explore any new culture, and I’ve never been on one that I didn’t enjoy. This was no exception and I, a trio of brits and our Korean guide had a blast eating and drinking our way through the town.
Today I was going to go on a tour to the DMZ, but it was canceled due to the African swine fever situation. I haven’t gotten the impression that anyone else is worried about it, but I guess the relationship between the two countries is still really fragile. It’s disappointing, but it’s also provided a much needed opportunity to rest and get some planning and blogging done.