The husband and I pottered off to Seoul a few months ago, ostensibly for him to attend a dental conference. But we made some time to explore this sprawling city and discover its fascinating culture. We visited some must-do’s including the demilitarised zone (DTZ) where we walked into the seemingly endless tunnels built by the north Koreans and bought some DTZ chocolate-covered soybeans; we visited malls with shops jam-packed with delectable Korean beauty products including a hydrating face-mask with the splendid Kim Jong Un’s face printed on and which promised you skin as soft has his butt no doubt, and we went on a bar crawl.
But of all the fascinating spots we discovered, the one great highlight of Seoul for me was this little corner shop next to a sprawling park, where the service was brisk and friendly, and where it is always happy hour. We had been walking down a busy street with Jean, our tour guide, when a drunk old man almost staggered into us. He deftly side-stepped us without missing a beat, and tottered on, engrossed in an animated conversation with himself. He reeked of alcohol.
“He’s drunk,” she said. “And I know where he got drunk at. Want to see?” By then, she had figured the hubby and I were quite partial to our food and drink. Of course we wanted to see, we assured her.
Taking a detour, she guided us down the next street that hugged the edge of a well manicured park. “Here,” she said of the park, “is where retirees like to go to take walks or enjoy the outdoors.”
Then she pointed to a little corner shop by the park, “And here is where that man had a few too many soju,” she said. She went on to explain that this unpretentious ‘bar’ catered mainly to the elderly who–on account of their retired situation–appreciated an inexpensive tipple or two, before they did the respectable retiree thing of walking in the park and enjoying the outdoors.
It was doing roaring business indeed. Customers were clustered around the only table where the proprietress had laid out a very decent buffet of bar bites — traditional Korean pickles which you ate with toothpicks to accompany your soju. We chose to imbibe al fresco, at the window counter where there was another little pickle buffet considerately laid out. We didn’t want to gate crash and impose on a boisterous party of regulars who clearly knew each other.
There is only one drink on the menu — a cheap soju that went for 1000 won (about S$2) a paper cup. You could easily knock back cup after paper cup without making much of a dent in the wallet, but it was rather foul stuff. The pickles though were quite edible and took the edge off the fire water. At that price, why would anyone complain anyway? We were quite pleased with our discovery.
Then we did what the locals did: totter off to the park to have a respectable walk, appreciate the flowers and enjoy the outdoors while we waited for the fumes to dissipate. We forgot to take any photos of the park though.