Beef, it's what's for dinner. Like it or not!
Seoul Travel Blog› entry 26 of 251 › view all entries
April 11th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
We flew on Asiana again, in business class. It was a good flight, less than 2 hours, and of course they had a full meal service. Both meal selections were beef (that's odd right?) so I ate the rice and salad, glad I had spent my last yen on a sandwich before boarding.
We landed and made it through immigration quickly as the airport was very quiet. We pretty much had the "foreigners" line to ourselves. We even remembered to change money right away, bright travelers that we are! There was a well organized station where shuttle buses came take people to their hotels.
The Sofitel lobby was very swank and welcoming -- not the least bit smoke filled like Namba. There was a slight issue checking in, as the man tried to charge an extra $52 per night (!) for breakfast and internet.
I said: But internet is included in the room.
He said: No, it's not. It's an extra $16 per day.
I thought: Wow! Highway robbery! I said: No that's not right. I even called and confirmed that internet was included.
He said: Did you call this hotel?
I said: No, it was 800-SOFITEL.
Ahhh. well then.
We went back and forth. I used my most effective form of argument in these situations, where I continue to state the facts (I was told internet was included) and present what would be the correct course of action (to give us free internet as promised), always keeping a friendly and apologetic tone. To everything that he said, I responded, "I understand completely. However..." Generally, the person will give me what I want just to get me to shut up and go away. But here, the best I could get was half price on Internet. Bummer.
The upside is that the room is wonderful, spacious, and very comfortable. It has a huge desk/work area and a fluffy Sofitel duvet on the king sized bed. We didn't spend a whole lot of time hanging around, though -- off we went to find dinner.
Basically we just stopped by Seoul on our way China with no real planning or advance study. I have no guidebook. We are not familiar with the foods or customs here, or the layout of the city. We don't even know how to say "thank you" here. (I did ask the customs guy how to say it, but it involved some sounds I can't make.)
In other words, quintessential travel!
Our map was awful (quintessential travel!) and we tried unsuccessfully to find the nearby street with lots of restaurant options. The area around the hotel is lined with pet store after pet store. There were dozens (maybe hundreds) of puppies who seemed too young to be away from their moms. Whenever a human came near, they stared intently or scratched crazily at the glass. Pick me! If I had been shopping for pets, I would have ended up with three.
We couldn't find the right street, but did find a restaurant that looked decent. They showed vegetarian-looking options on their picture menu. They had grills at every table, with vents positioned above each grill. People were frying up what looked to be extremely fatty pork. They had a delicious-looking dish called "mushrooms in crock" that showed about 8-10 varieties of mushroom in a bowl with broth and other vegetables. No meat to be seen there. We both ordered this, and I tried to confirm, "no meat" with the waitress but we had a definite language barrier. Right after she left our table, I saw that our map has translations for several phrases, including, "I am a vegetarian.
Soon after, we were brought about 7 different bowls that contained kimchi, boiled eggs, and other unidentifiable foods. We wondered if this was the starter, or if it was supposed to accompany our meal. Much debate. Should we eat it?!? We looked to the other tables but learned nothing from them. We finally decided to eat, and no one told us to stop, so I guess it was correct. The bowls seemed to contain all vegetables, spicy and foreign. There was a green leafy vegetable that could have been spinach in peanuty sauce, which I liked a lot.
We were then brought huge sizzling crocks of soup laden with mushrooms. Yum! I could identify enoki, shitake, and buttom mushrooms, but there were others completely new to me.
I can't explain what it feels like to eat beef after having successfully avoided it for over 20 years. It doesn't feel good. No one will understand this and I can't explain it. But I just really wanted to cry.
Steve quickly said that the broth was definitely vegetable based (I agreed). I put my spoon aside and ate my rice. I thought I might throw up, and the thought made me feel more weepy. I didn't want to say anything to the waitress. I knew we wouldn't be able to overcome the language thing and didn't want to make a scene. So we just went up to pay, and as we were leaving Steve said at the last minute, Hey, I don't speak Korean, but can you explain...
The woman quickly beckoned to a boy (the house English speaker I guess) and Steve asked him to translate the characters we had shown the waitress. What does this mean? The boy said, It means you don't eat beef, or pork. No meat! He then sliced his hand through the air for emphasis.
We asked, Then why were we served beef? The boy didn't understand, and had a discussion with the money taker and the waitress. The waitress brought the menu over. We pointed to the picture of "mushrooms in crock."
Ooooooh! he said. But that's just a little bit beef!!! And held up his had to indicate about an inch of beef. He didn't seem to understand the conflict between me eating "no beef" and them serving me "just a little beef." Oh boy. So we left, shaking our heads. Let it go.
So we walked for a little awhile, trying to find our position on the map, and came upon a French-style bakery. Mmm. I was still feeling sorry for myself so I had an eclair. Just a little one. We also bought breakfast food, bread and peanut butter. Then back to the hotel. The shower did much to restore my low spirits... it was extra hot, with lots of fancy soaps and a post shower slathering of fragrant lotion. Life is pretty good, beef or no beef.
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