Friday, July 8, 2011
Question: I'm just going around the corner and the sun is shining. Do I need to take my umbrella?
Answer: Yes. Summer is 'Monsoon Season' in Korea. ( 'Monsoon' is Korean for, "These shoes were a huge mistake.") This means that the weather is mostly rain, although there may be brief periods of non-rain that will lull you into thinking that the rain is over. Do not be fooled by this. You should always take your umbrella with you, under all circumstances, even if there is not a cloud in the sky. This will be especially important to remember if you have moved from the American Southwest and have not seen bona fide rain since late 2010. In fact, you should go out and buy several umbrellas for your family right away because you will constantly forget about them and leave them all over Seoul in cabs and restaurants.
Question: I hear a lovely melody playing. Is that the radio?
Answer: No. That is your washing machine, or, possibly, your dishwasher. Do not expect your appliances to let you know they're finished working with the typical lackluster 'Beep-Beep' or 'Buzzzzz' of an American appliance. All your appliances, when finished with their tasks, will burst into an ebullient tune of at least 30 measures, including a melody and a refrain. The exception to this rule is your oven, which will emit a quiet, anemic 'peep' when it's preheated, and then, for reasons that are not clear, immediately turn itself off. When you finally start wondering if the oven's preheated, you will discover that it is off and have to preheat all over again. This will happen repeatedly until you finally pull up a milk crate and perch on it by the oven, watching it like a hawk and waiting for it to beep so you can cram your food in there before it capriciously turns itself off again.
Question: I need to buy some live mussels. Will I be able to find them in the mini-grocery store downstairs in my apartment building?
Answer: Why, yes, of course. You will find live mussels in the tiny convenience store in your building, along with shrimp-flavored cheese puffs, diapers for your baby, milk, bean sprouts, wholemeal flour, crystallized ginger, and Rich Tea biscuits. You will not, however, be able to find any Parmesan cheese.
Question: I need to get to the Shilla Hotel. If I hop into a cab and say, 'Shilla Hotel,' will the driver take me straight to the Shilla Hotel?
Answer: Most certainly not. The driver will smile broadly, say, "Namsan Tower" and begin driving. You will say 'Shilla Hotel' again, and he will say, "Namsan Tower" again. You will repeat this exchange several more times, with mounting frustration. Just as you resign yourself to seeing the Namsan Tower against your will, your driver will abruptly make a u-turn in the middle of 6 lanes of traffic, drive you up a hill, through the back of a partially deserted industrial parking lot, and deposit you at the Shilla Hotel. If you are prepared for this, and are aware in advance that you will, eventually, end up at the Shilla Hotel, the whole experience will be far less terrifying.
Question: The seafood salad I have been served includes a mollusk (or possibly,crustacean) that is orange, membranous, and approximately the size of a Vienna sausage. It also has a tail that is twice its length. Should I eat it?
Answer: It is your adventurous spirit that has brought you here to Asia, where you and your family will make treasured memories together, sharing a variety of new experiences and cuisines. Not eating something just because you don't know what it is is close-minded and provincial. However, many of us live by deeply held personal credos, and it so happens that one of mine is, "Do not eat anything you cannot identify that has a two-inch long membranous tail attached to it." If, however, that is not one of your personal credos then, by all means, you should certainly eat it.
Question: In Korea, how many tables must an establishment have in it in order to call itself a 'restaurant?'
Answer: One, or maybe two. But they do not have to be very big.
Question: It is ten o'clock in the morning and my teenage sons are not up yet. Should I wake them?
Answer: Under no circumstances should you wake them. If you do, they will eat all your food, dirty all your dishes, make a mess of your kitchen, play loud music, and then ask for money so they can go get pho for lunch, which you will gladly give them just to get them out of the apartment. You will end up with a dirty kitchen and no money. Let them sleep and go have another cup of coffee.