Commerce


It’s been two weeks since I returned from Thailand and I still miss it. Among the top of the list includes:

From city to country these shrines are ever abundant across the landscape of Thailand. Behind it you can just make up the pick up game of soccer by all the boys wearing sneakers in a dirt lot.

1. The laid-back mentality and generous hospitality of the locals.

2. The amazing cuisine (I definitely prefer the fresh vs. fermented style of authentic Asian cuisines which was a huge difference between Korea and Thailand), I’ve always enjoyed Thai food back home but it pales in comparison to the amazing variety and richness of the local dishes while there. Not to mention the dirt cheap prices. Example? Roasted Sea Bass and deep-fried Morning Glory with hard-boiled eggs.

If you can judge something by its lowest common denominator then let me just say this "Even the mall food was Good!"

3. The warm temperature in the 80s spent beach/pool side and some (but not all) of the cheap yet fairly decadent hotels I stayed at.

Catching some rays and reading some Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay with a Tiger Lager in hand. Oh yeah, those are waterfalls coming off the arches on the far end...

Instead of providing a full recap, my posts on Thailand are going to be focused upon two of the real highlights of my trip (which coincidentally I managed to actually take some photos of). The weekend market at Mo Chit in Bangkok and the island of Koh Samoi in Southern Thailand.

While I used to frequent the farmers’ market in my college-town of Bellingham I was in no way prepared for the daunting size and spectrum represented in the weekend market here. For example, at one point we became slightly lost in between the pet section and the florist section. Both were indoors and easily over an acre in size. The flora section was a nice break actually after the fauna section, not just because of the far more pleasing aroma. While it was nice to see so many dogs that I rarely see in Korea (Black Labs, Newfoundlands and German Shepherds to name a few) it was slightly depressing to see the size of the cages they were all enclosed in.

Leave a trail of bread crumbs when you enter...least you never exit the labyrinth of the indoor section of the market.

Immediately upon walking in I snagged a young coconut juice (best cure for the celebratory Christmas Eve night prior) for a mere 65 cents. This nectar of the gods has the same pH level of human blood and, fun fact of the day, was used as a substitute for saline when supplies were low during WWII. This was one of many different forms of juices you could purchase here, ranging from the familiar, Lemon, to the exotic, Rambutan, options were plentiful.

"Wait, so which one is the best to mix with snake's blood, the original Red Bull and Samsung?" Samsung is Thai Whiskey not the Korean company and Red Bull is from Thailand but has a different recipe here, syrupy and kinda feels like it has amphetamines in it...

Food was great as the small noodle/curry stalls operated on every corner. I gained quite a bit of respect for them right of the bat when I noticed that the basil, green onion and cilantro was all still alive, growing in vases in the center of the table. These as well as the green beans, cabbage and bean sprouts, were definitely taken advantage of while I feasted right next to other, Thai, American and Japanese, customers at the small plastic tables provided. Oh, did I mention the abundance of LIMEs in Thailand?! This delectable citrus is one of my favorites and I had developed a craving something fierce the prior. Add on to this that some stalls had small, mobile garden patches nearby and the atmosphere was superb.  Needless to say my hunger was sated and then some.

BANGARANG!

Sa-wat-dee kraup Green Thumb.

The diversity found at the locale was also amazing to me. You would see an Australian family on holiday, all drinking some Singha lager (Granny included),   shoulder to shoulder with a family of Sikhs on vacation from the subcontinent. The cacophony of different dialects and languages coming at you from all directions (megaphones, hawkers, conversations right next to you) was slightly disorienting at first. But much like a lot of the discordant music I like (definitely thinking of one of my favorite bands, Converge) after some time you fall into the groove of it and appreciate the harmonies therein.

Seoul is rather limited in comparison when it comes to cultural diversity. There is and immigrant population but it is by no means a real tourist destination. While the foreign district Itaewon and my area of residence may be exceptions, in terms of a large variety, the majority of non-natives you see here fit two types. American GIs and English teachers from one of the English dominant countries with Americans and Canadians being the majority here in Seoul.

The region I call home, Youngdeungpo-Gu, actually has the highest concentration of immigrants in the whole city. These are Chinese workers, if you look around closely the signs alternate between Hangul and Chinese characters. Some blocks are completely lacking in Neon signs and Hangul and are 100% Chinese. As my good Korean-American friend told me “It’s like I was magically transported from Seoul to Beijing.”

Did dabble in a little budget commerce myself, though they were all undoubtedly knock-offs I was pretty satisfied at what, for me, was quite a bit of shopping. For around $15 I purchased a pair of Chelsea home match trunks, RayBan shades, Diesel sandals and decent board shorts. Not too shabby for someone who abhors the mall and shops rarely to never. I was baffled at the Arabian gentleman who purchased a large quantity of Thai high-end cutlery and china plates and whatnot. Figure they must offer some shipping options. Personally, I wouldn’t want to try to hauling that through the packed, bustling crowds to get out.

More packed than a Seoul rush hour subway. No easy feat.

One thing I was glad we didn’t encounter across the vast yet cramped expanse of the market was the rather large cock-fighting section. Muay Thai matches with potential broken bones? Sure, they are volunteering for that. Animals eviscerating each other with razor blades? Not my bag. The tourist tuktuks smashing their way through the crowds with loud music out of low-quality speakers also wasn’t the most impressive.

Nonchalant as all get out. These kids were killin it.

On the flipside there was a multitude of singers and musicians busking on corners. From older gentlemen playing traditional drums to the groups or solo young boys in vibrant attire playing these wooden, almost Peruvian wind-pipe reminiscent, instruments. All in all I had a wonderful time and would definitely recommend this stop to anyone visiting Bangkok.

If the hotel we stayed at the first night seemed somewhat stark, dingy and antiquated we were in for quite the surprise upon arrival at our next lodgings. “The Guest House” (actual name of business) just opened up for business in the past two months and was fully furnished with a very modern (two separate computers for guest use) and trendy look to it. We slept 4 people to a room in separate bunk beds. The beds were comfortable and the layout of the room was quite convenient with individual lockers and a large closet for clothes and luggage. Not only was there on site laundry for your sandy, sea-smelling beach attire but they had a fully stocked kitchen and provided breakfast free of charge, though conversation for me was slightly limited.

Korean frosted flakes? Order Up!

Lively conversations around me are a reminder that I need to focus more on my Korean conversational skills.

I really enjoyed the charismatic and goofy owner/manager of the property. The first night there my coworkers decided to go to the bars immediately after the beach. I for one am more of a shower and change kinda guy, don’t really like sitting on a bar stool with the feeling of sand in my shoes and in my clothes. Due to this I hopped on the subway for a little evening transition time in between festivities. On a related quick tangent I feel like a true expat because I now have not one, but Two Korean subway cards! One Seoul Metro linked onto my bank account and one Busan Hannaro card.

Haha, back to the story… I arrived at the guesthouse after a quick stop by the store for some Mekju (beer), ramen, soft tofu and green onions. After a quick shower I fired up the elements and started crafting a little curry ramen stew. While talking to my new friend Peter who was a student/soldier (all Koreans over twenty must serve for a little under two years in the armed forces) I pulled out my trusty bag of culinary tricks and added a little complexity to my dish. Many of my friends will tell you that I can’t eat without my assortment of condiments and I packed accordingly for this vacation. My coworker from Philly likened me to a culinary Felix the Cat and his magical bag of tricks.

Peter saw the meal and the mekju I pulled out of the fridge and seemed to be a bit inspired as he produced a bag of rice balls stuffed with kimchi and boiled potatoes and ran down to the 7-11 to purchase some beer of his own. Around this time the owner came out of his room/office smelling the curry in the air and looking curiously at the dining table. Upon seeing my dish he let out the often hear “WOW!” and asked if I was a chef. I laughed and told him my Dad had spent some time in this occupation but that my brother was the cook in the family and I just learned some tricks and enjoyed the hobby.

We sat and chatted in simplified English for a bit and then Peter returned with some beer. Food was traded and beers were clanked together held by two hands and the utterance of “Gombey” which is the traditional Korean cheers. Do not accidentally say “Kampi” or you will look like a real ass…

The next morning the same WOW was uttered a few times by Peter and the manager when I made a little breakfast omelette. I felt a happy and somewhat proud sense of Deja Vu.

Sprucing up the finished product with a little Sriracha, garlic salt w/ parsley, basil and a drizzle of Chili oil.

Breakfast of Champions!

The manager was so impressed he asked me to give him an English name. First time I have given a grown man a namesake. Cheers to you Ethan of the guesthouse and all the gracious and fun-loving other Korean guests I met there!

And thus you were named!

Big Ups to my Guest House peeps!

Lunch was had across the street at the Shinsegae department store. The sushi was really good in the food court with a nice tuna roll wrapped in that crazy purple rice they have here in Korea. It was pretty similar to most of the department stores except for the fact that….IT’S THE BIGGEST ONE IN THE WORLD! Haha, yeah, movie theatre, spa, Romanesque fountains with alabaster sculptures, an ice rink and a giant Guiness seal of authenticity on the front it was a little overwhelming.

If you go to the website you might even get to see the testimony “webmercial” video testimony he filmed of my review to try and coax other waygookins into his 21st story guest house of wonders.