16 August 2008

summer in seoul

Last Saturday was hot and humid and a most imperfect day for wandering around outside. But seeing as it was the first Saturday in recent memory in which we were free to do whatever we felt like doing, the taxing weather was a non-issue compared to the sheer exhilaration of having nothing on our proverbial plates.

We decided to work on our Seoul To-See list and found ourselves wading through downtown's thick humidity, exploring Deoksugung palace. It's a nice sprawl of greenery and historic buildings in the center of the city and a well-organized cicada battalion manufactures rhythmic static in the shadows. You wouldn't know you were steps from City Hall if it weren't for the high-rises peeking their way through the open spaces.

Our noontime wandering turned us both into glistening examples of the human body's basic cooling methods and it wasn't pretty. The whole sweat-dripping-off-the-elbow thing is far from picturesque, and from what I can tell, may not even be that effective. And when a small huddle of vending machines appeared in the distance we couldn't have been happier.

Not only were there cold liquids for sale in these magical machines, but included in that group was a drink we'd long been meaning to try: Pocari Sweat. Yep, the word "sweat" is part of the name. I guess it might make sense to someone, you're losing a lot of sweat - why not replace it with more sweat? Preferably the lemon-lime flavored Pocari variety. (Makes Gatorade sound downright boring.)

We got a second wind with our can of sweat and went on to finish our wanderings. Towards the rear of the park, by the art museum, was a rather European feeling space with a fountain and benches and manicured gravel. We took a seat on a bench under a vine-shaded arbor and found ourselves witness to the shared culture of relationships, or at least the shared practice of men getting stuck hauling around their girlfriend's purses.

Leaving the palace grounds we were sapped and hungry and looking for some serious air conditioning and food -- in that order. We ended up at a branch of our favorite bi bim bap place. I got a cold vegetarian bi bim bap and it was perfect. Fresh and light and a healthy accompaniment to the big vegetable pancake that we shared. And the best part of the meal? The large TV broadcasting the Olympics.

I will watch just about any Olympic event that you put before me and it's been great to see the Korean perspective. The sports that are embraced by the Korean public, and shown in force on local TV, are not the sports that Americans are used to watching in prime time. There's a lot of archery, judo, weight lifting, table tennis and badminton... all sports in which the Koreans excel.

Watching the opening ceremony was memorable due to the dramatic spectacle so well manufactured by the Chinese but also because we were watching it live on Korean TV. We couldn't understand the play by play but we did use our basic Korean abilities to sound out the country names as they rolled across the screen in Korean.

What I'd really like to see is a Korean athlete with a Pocari Sweat logo tucked into the corner of their jersey. I haven't noticed one yet, but there was a female archer whose vest featured a large cartoon panda, some floating hearts and the word "love" in big bubble letters. If cartoon pandas full of love are Olympics-worthy, I'd expect a Pocari Sweat logo out there somewhere... it would be downright staid by comparison.

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