First Night at the Un Dang Yogwan
Finally arrived after nearly twenty-four hours of travelling: London-Paris-Anchorage-Seoul. Initial impression as we sped into the city centre from Kimpo Airport is that Seoul-- with its towering tenement blocks, skyscrapers, and congested traffic-- is not all that different from any other modern metropolis. Such thoughts were short-lived, for the brown taxi soon pulled into the courtyard of the Un Dang Yogwan, a famous old traditional inn located in Uni-dong.
Passing through the gateway to the inner courtyard was like walking into another era: the pagoda-roofed buildings were arranged around the courtyard, each with a series of individual, paper-screened cells; on one side there was a larger more spacious series of rooms (what must formerly have been the anbang -- the main living area); and on another, there was a sunken kitchen where we could see women preparing foods over blackened, coal-fired ranges.
We took off our shoes to enter our tiny room, for the raised floor was spotless and shiny, covered with the most beautiful golden lacquered paper. Apart from some folded bedding and a small table, there was no furniture in the room, so we sat on the warm ondol floor.
I asked for some dinner, and before long the boy returned, carrying a small, low table laden with no less than fifteen round dishes, bowls and saucers: there were two types of kimchi, one a quite fantastic hot and sour winter kimchi, and the other an altogether milder nabak kimchi, fresh, crunchy slices of radish and cabbage in water. There was also a selection of namul: muu saengchae, chui and sigumchi namul; some strips of meat in kochujang; a piece of dried pollack fried in batter; a pile of crisp tasima -- strips of kelp deep-fried in sesame oil; bowls of twoenjang tchigae, a soupy bean paste and curd stew. We washed this remarkable repast down with bori cha. Then, exhausted, we spread out our bedding on the warm ondol floor: a yo-- that is, a futon-like mattress-- and colourful ibul quilts. Our pillows were hard and cylindrical, filled with rice husks, but they were quite up to the job. Little baby Guy lay on a sheepskin spread out between us and we all slept wonderfully well.
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