Sunday, December 14, 2008

Korea 6th Dec 2008

After husband's 2nd day of conference, we decided to go and visit the Korean National Mosque. A study of the local map showed that we needed to get to Itaewon, where the mosque was located. And with our good friend Dr Chew (our subway guru) on board, we were quite certain we'd have no problems getting to the place.

I'd say, it was a good hour later (with us changing lines 3 times I think) before we finally arrived at Itaewon. Upon stepping out of Itaewon station, we found ourselves standing in front of a building which had the word Hamilton on it ( I can't remember if it was a hotel / shop or restaurant). We immediately turned left and started walking amongst the crowd... but weren't sure how far we had to walk before getting to the mosque. Luckily, husband spotted the minarets of the mosque in the distance... probably some 50m away. We quickly zigzagged in between rows of shops and soon found ourselves in the vicinity of the mosque.

By the time we reached the mosque, which was beautifully perched on top of a hill overlooking Seoul city, it was slightly after Isya'. The majestic entrance leading to the mosque was beautiful with turquoise geometric tiles set according to Islamic architecture... and right at the centre were some Korean wordings which I assumed meant the Korean National Mosque.

The front facade of the mosque

It was interesting to learn that Malaysia had a role in setting up of the mosque. In fact, if I'm not mistaken the late Tunku Abdul Rahman had helped by purchasing the hill top land at the price of US 33,000 back in 1962. However, the plan was derailed due to inflation and the mosque was only built in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood in 1976. The president of the Korea Islam Institute estimated that there are about 40,000 listed Muslims in South Korea, and about 10,000 are estimated to be highly active practitioners.

We met a few muslims at the mosque and wished them Happy Eid Mubarak as Raya Haji was just 2 days away. From them we found out the location of halal restaurants in the area and soon found ourselves at a Turkish restaurant called "Salam Restaurant". Hubby, Dr Chew and I were more than happy to escape the cold and have a quick bite and pit-stop at this very cosy place. Feeling rather famished, we happily ordered dinner which comprised of lamb kofte, chicken kebabs with salads, pitta bread and turkish coffee ( the last one for the heck of it).

Salam Restaurant


Yummy... no more!

With a full belly and an empty bladder, we left for Myeong-dong for our last shopping spree in Korea. We were leaving for home the next day and I was feeling very apprehensive as I hadn't bought anything for the kids. I was told by Dr Chew that this was the best place to get cheap cheap toys for children.

Ready for riot?? Normal scene in Korea

Myeong-dong.... shop till you drop

Had it not been sooo cold, we might have stayed longer and explored the area better. But it was freezing cold... -10 Celsius, and I felt as if my nose was going to fall off soon. So with shopping bags in hand, we ran into a cab and headed for our hotel. While husband had a short meeting with a colleague back at the hotel, I had the task of packing for our trip home the next day. We managed to get loads of stuff for our girls at Myeong-dong, but none suitable for our boys. Hubby later said that we'll just do what he normally does on his overseas trips when it comes to getting gifts for the kids...that is shop at KLIA toy shop before getting into the taxi home. Yup! That's what we did... and a big Kamsa Hamnida to the cashier for snipping off the price tags before stuffing the things into our shopping bags.

Korea 5th Dec 2008

The weather forecast warned us that the temperature was going to drop down even further today... and it did. It went all the way down to sub zero during the day!

As we left the hotel for a tour of the factory, we noticed the small pool of water outside the hotel had turned into ice. It was rock solid. I'm pretty sure, if there were little elves around in the neighbourhood ... they would have been able to ice-skate on it.

Anyway the factory tour ended in the afternoon and we were back at our hotel by 4pm. Two Korean friends of hubby later came to the hotel and took us out for dinner. We took a taxi and hubby and I were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at the doorstep of a Japanese Restaurant. My last and only experience of Japanese cuisine prior to this was many many years ago at Hilton Hotel in P.Jaya. What an experience that had been. I vividly remember my clumsy attempts at trying to get sushis into my mouth using chopsticks... and how they often ended falling onto my plate instead... which of course explained why I was still feeling hungry after dinner!

The restaurant was cosy but more importantly it provided us the much needed warmth and refuge from the -12 Celsius freezing weather outside. I really liked the place and was most taken by its wooden decor which was complete with typical Japanese sliding doors and low dining tables. It reminded me of the Japanese drama series Oshin that mom and I used to watch when I was a child.

Our Korean hosts understood our need for halal food, hence ordered an array of dishes which comprised of fish, crab, shrimps and the likes of them. It was a true Japanese gastronomic fare. I was almost hesitant initially to sample the dishes, lest I ruin the obvious meticulous work of the chef who had carefully and delicately placed and arranged every item of food on the big serving plates. Suffice to say, we were in awe at the amount of detail placed on the presentation of each dish to ensure it was aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of the customers.

The highlight of the night was a dish our Korean friends described as "toxic fish"... which I assume was akin to the "fugu" or Japanese puffer fish. In the hands of the inexperienced, whereby the fish is not carefully prepared, it becomes lethal. Our server came in and carefully rolled the thinly sliced fish together with strands of cucumber ( I think). As we popped the mini delights into our mouths (not without many many Bismillahs before that), we couldn't help but recall the fatal incident in Johor a few months back in June when two customers died after eating the puffer fish or ikan buntal. Naudzubillah!

Surviving that... we then proceeded to another amazing dish which had specks of edible gold lightly scattered on the fish. Having worn gold all my life, it felt very very odd indeed having it for dinner! But to my surprise, the gold was hardly noticeable once in the mouth. I'm quite sure these two dishes must have cost a bomb and both hubby and I felt most lucky to be treated to such sumptuous dinner by our Korean friends.

The chef meeting our party for a short chat during dinner

Leaving the restaurant was hard as we knew we'd be reluctantly thrown back into the freezing cold. As cold as it was that night, not a drop of snow was to be seen anywhere in Seoul city. But later that night, we discovered from the local TV that snow had actually blanketed some areas down south. Alas! No winter sonata for me this time around...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Korea 4th Dec 2008

Anyong Haseo!!

Husband's 4 day trip to Korea was great. Great because unlike many of his trips abroad, this time around I got to go too. Ain't that great!

The one and a half hour journey into the city from the airport took longer than usual. Upon crossing Han River, we found ourselves stuck in a traffic jam... crawling slowly into Seoul city. As we gazed out from the MPV, hubby and I were struck by the level of patriotism amongst the Koreans when it came to owning cars. Daewoos, Hyundais and Ssangyongs lined the streets with hardly any foreign cars to be seen anywhere. Sooooo unlike home.

Anyway, once checked into our hotel... our party of 7 took a taxi and headed for the silk shops. A few days earlier, hubby had read in the internet about a certain area which is known to be a good place to purchase silk. Just in case anyone is thinking of going there in the future, perhaps this address may be of use to you as it has to us.


Tel : 22660167, 22760169 HP : 011-2760169

It's a good idea to call the shop in advance as someone from the shop might be able to wait for you at the entrance. Honestly, I don't think we'd have been able to find our way to the shop as the area was a huge labryinth of little textile shops which looked pretty much identical.

At the shop, we were greeted by a young and pleasant shop assistant who surprised us by speaking English. Not only was she pretty, she had vocabulary to boot using the word "shabby" to describe the food stalls in the area. My F5 students at school can surely learn a thing or two from this girl. Her motivation and drive to learn English can easily put my students to shame.

Our helpful Korean "silk" girl assisting our group in search for lunch

Through our newly found interpreter, we were able to get a discount from the owner of the shop. He called it the "Malaysian Embassy Price" (Wallahualam). Now this had me thinking immediately about the number of Malaysian customers that must have walked through the doors of his modest shop over the years. It must have been somewhere in between his use of the word "baju kurung" and "cantik" that I was bought over and hubby soon found himself having to depart from his many many Korean wons. Don't we just lurve our husbands!!

Yes. Two of the five pieces that ended in my shopping bag. Husband finally redeemed after his A Tale of the Korean Silk fiasco last year.

On a walkabout
Our walk around Dongdaemun area saw us passing by many specialised shops. There were rows that specialised in sewing machines, another that sold plastics and rubber bands of all shapes and sizes, another had books stacked from floor to ceiling (my fav), some sticker shops...and the amazing thing is, these shops were sooo tiny. In most instances there would probably be enough standing room for 3 people!

Orthodontic rubber bands for giants available here

Customized stickers service

Namdaemun Night Market
For cheap souveniers to take home, this is the place to go. Little Korean trinkets like paper fans, book markers, keychains, placemats, small dessert spoons and forks, brooches and hair accesories abound everywhere you turn. Communication may be a problem...a BIG problem sometimes...but don't despair. On your part resort to sign language (as I did many many times) and on the seller's part he/she will be punching the numbers on his/her calculator for you to see. Definetely no communication barrier there!

Market comes alive at night from 7pm till midnight

Flying thousands of miles away, to end up buying
Vietnamese silk handbags in Korea!

If this interests you the place is

#18, 1F, Co Co B/D.

52-1 Namchang-Dong, Choong-Gu, Seoul, Korea

In Kimchi-land, halal food is scarce. Unless you know where to look, finding halal food is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Luckilly I had mom's sambal ikan bilis in my emergency kit. This was of course eaten together with maggi mee brought from home. Once awhile, when sick of maggi, the sambal was eaten with bread. Extradiondinary times call for extradordinary measures..

Simply delish!

Anyway, it was during one of our walkabouts on the first day that we stumbled upon a small halal kebab shop which if I'm not mistaken is located near Hoehyeon Station. It was manned by an Iraqi who had been in the country for the past 6 months. We were of course ecstatic to see him. Whilst he was happy to see fellow Muslims in Korea, we were of course happy to see him for reasons more related to our tummy! Needless to say the kebabs were savoured and devoured in a matter of seconds by the hungry travellers..

For truly satisfying kebabs at 3000 won (roughly rm7.50) call 776 6904

Getting around in taxis would be ideal. It's faster (when there's no traffic jams of course) and less tiring on the feet. The only thing is, one must be willing to part with the thousands of wons in the wallet. Perhaps, it's only right that when in Korea, one needs to at least try the subway system.... no matter how complicated it may seem. Used to the less complicated London underground, I have to admit being slightly intimidated by the whole Korean subway thing. Lucky for us, we had hubby's good fren (Dr Chew) to take us on a train hopping experience. Looking at the way how he managed to get us from one place to another, one could mistake him for a local. Perhaps Korea is indeed his second home and his real name is Dr Kim Chew!

Care to decipher the map???

So over the 3 days, we got around using the subway... and life would definetely be incomplete if we didn't get lost along the way ;> We had actually got down at the wrong station on our way back to the hotel and ended up unsure as how to proceed from there. Instead of exiting at Seolleung Station, we had somehow rather exited at Samseong Station. The tall modern buildings surrounding the area gave little hints as to where we were. It didn't help either that by that time, the temperature had dropped to just slightly above 0 celcius and we were freezing our @*%%$ off. But thank god for 2 Korean men who helped us by getting us a taxi back to the hotel. I was more than happy to jump into the cab as I felt we were slowly but surely turning into popsicles!

Hannan's Pahang Adventure