Today, we have been itching to head back to Namdaemun Market to a) eat bugs in South Korea and b) buy kids clothes. On the plus side, we discovered several more things we love about Korea; on the flip side Namdaemun Market is not what we first thought.
Day 45 South Korea Family Travel Journal:
Eating Bugs in South Korea
남한에서 벌레를 먹고있다
We really dragged our feet this morning because we really didn’t want to go out today. We are exhausted and worn out, but we knew it was our last chance to visit Namdaemun Market before our time in South Korea comes to a close. During our last visit we found a ton of kids clothes, all less than ₩10,000 won a piece and I wanted to go back and get the kids clothes for the rest of the year!
Pie is getting old enough, and tall enough, that finding age appropriate and modest clothing for her that doesn’t have sassy, brazen or shocking text on the front is getting to be borderline impossible. If we didn’t go today, we wouldn’t have another chance. And, If we hadn’t gone today we’d have missed out on so much. Like the aforementioned hotteok we have fallen in love with!
Of course, first we had to take the two hour subway into Seoul which is almost as bad as taking the elevator; at least on the subway you actually move from point A to point B. Taking the subway doesn’t feel exhausting but it is because it’s a lot of wasted time doing nothing. Even though it’s a significant amount of time, we can’t really take advantage of said time because the subway is almost always packed and during the two hours we are navigating between two and sometimes three transfers or more.
People are bumping into each other and moving out of the way for riders to get on and off. If you do get a seat, it’s proper form in Korea to give it up for someone else and you are constantly scanning the swarms of people for someone to offer your seat to. Even if you get a seat, you can’t really relax because riding the subway in Korea is a constant game of Hot Potato.
You get a seat but you give it up for someone in need. You don’t get a seat and someone is trying to offer you theirs. Your kids get a seat, but then a person comes on the train that needs their seat. It’s obvious they need to sit down, but they don’t want your child to move, so they refuse. There is a lot of offering someone to sit down, and preventing someone else from getting up. Not to mention, everyone wants to play and talk with the children, which means we have to keep a constant and vigilant eye.
Plus, you are acutely aware the entire trip that you will be spending the same amount of time coming home as well. To make it worth the time spent on the train you want to spend at least that much time at your destination or what value do you place on your experience? Ugh.
Today we exited at Seoul Station into a huge protest at Gwanghwamun Square. Though seemingly peaceful, it was clear there was organized opposition to something and throngs of people were in attendance. We saw red, white and blue flags waving overhead and being passed out to all passersby. Both Korean flags and American flags. Flags with President Trump alongside the Korean balance symbol.
In fact, it would have been easy to mistake the protest for a celebration. Everyone was smiling, and the policemen manning the event were wandering about and off getting smoothies at a nearby joint. While I was taking photos, one policeman even suggested I stand on a stool to get a better view.
As we got closer to the stage where the action was, while events remained peaceful, it became clear this was not a celebration. Off to the side we saw a man throwing darts at a large poster full of pictures of people’s faces. We assume they were government officials. Several people took turns yelling, chanting and voicing discord through a microphone while the crowd murmured in agreement. We listened to the national anthem and heard the chorus swell as people stood at attention and held their hands over their hearts. This is real world worldschooling!
This was such an incredible worldschooling opportunity to teach the children about civil disobedience, demonstrating your opposition to beliefs and standing up for what you believe. Coming from the United States, we share a similar type of government, and this year we have focused a lot on teaching the kids about individual rights. This was an excellent hands on presentation of our discussions in action. Particularly cool that we got to see this play out in another country outside our motherland. Worldschooling for us isn’t putting our kids in schools around the world, it’s using the world to teach our kids.
A man explained to us that the people were exercising their right to free speech by protesting the government. The protest we were witness to is part of ongoing weekly protests since May calling for a probe into the deaths of five protestors in 2017 that occurred during a protest against previous President Park.
President Park Geun-hye was impeached on counts of extortion, allowing friends to manipulate government policy and boosting corporate influence. She is not the first President to be impeached even since the turn of the century. President Roh was impeached in 2004, due to illegal electioneering, but reinstated just two months later.
The protest we happened upon was tame compared to the protests we’ve since learned occurred in late 2017, when the deaths occurred. Tens of thousands of people flooded Gwanghwamun Square and spilled out into the streets blocking traffic. During these events, five people were killed by police, but no official answers have been given. Intense, but a great worldschooling lesson on free speech and much more!
At the time, we didn’t understand what was happening but we came back to our apartment the next day and used this experience to learn more about Korea’s history. Today’s events enabled us to connect the dots with history we learned on Jeju Island as it pertains to the current political climate of both North and South Korea.
We were captivated the events and watched for sometime from an elevated pedestrian bridge that led over the main city streets in a garden setting. From this bird’s eye vantage point we could see more of the events unfold and discuss our worldschooling free speech experience with our children outside of the confusion in the square.
This route also led us straight to Namdaemun Market where it was time for eating bugs in South Korea. We entered the market via accessory alley and hair bow heaven. Me and my three little girls could have spent every last bit of cash we had here, but ultimately limited ourselves to mermaids, popsicles, flowers and cartoonish plastic bows. The hair bows we found come in sets of 10, and cannot be purchased individually. Broken down, each bow ends up costing just under $1 a piece.
Starving, it was serendipitous that we just happened to exit accessory alley directly on top of the street food. We were prepping ourselves for the silkworms and all ready to eat bugs in South Korea. We watched as crowds of people hovered around a particular vendor, and found they were selling giant slices of fruit. Of course we had to get some at $1 per slice. After we paid, the woman cutting the fruit only sliced off a tiny little piece and handed it to us. Gabriel and I looked at each other, like “what the crap?” Then, she gestured to the baby. It turns out this little piece was a gift, and she gobbled it right up.
Soon thereafter we were each issued our own giant slices of watermelon, and pineapple.
Gabriel was ready for the big event: Eating bugs in South Korea, but I was watching the clock and I wanted to find the clothes first. We walked through the market vendors checking out anything that looked interesting. We found ourselves in the women’s section and saw a lot of beautiful blouses which was another thing I was hoping to find.
At the street market in Hong Kong you are not allowed to try on any of the clothes. The vendors assure you they will fit, and you have to take their word for it. For the most part the clothes do fit, though some were a little snug around the chest or shoulders. More than that though, nearly all the clothes we brought home did not last more than a few washes. I was concerned the same thing would happen but I was willing to take a risk if the price was fair.
The price was not fair! These vendors were asking upwards of $50 for cotton blouses. We checked out a few men’s blazers, made from a type of polyester latex fabric – the same material as the only pillow cases we’ve been able to find here, and they were a minimum of $100.
We wove our way through the maze and found the original building where the children’s clothes were on our first visit. Previously, I inquired how much items were. With the exception of the more fancy and beautiful dresses, everything was in the $5-$10 range.
Not today. Today, we were told items were discounted at $15-$30 per item. I’m not sure if we got the weekend prices, if there is a bait and switch, or if we these were foreigner prices. Regardless, it wasn’t the treasure chest we originally thought. We did walk out with some bow ties for Widmore, and a few dresses, but we were disappointed that the prices were actually more money than we typically spend back home.
Outside the children’s market was our bug food vendor. I can’t believe I just typed ‘bug food vendor’. Gabriel has been promising to eat the Korean delicacy silk pupae snack, also known as beondegi, since we first got here. And you’ve been waiting to read about it since you landed on this page. As he’d been complaining about wanting food, what better snack could we find? An 8oz dixie cup of bugs cost ₩2,000 won and is filled ¾ of the way full. It was time to eat bugs in South Korea.
Everyone ended up eating bugs in South Korea but me. Widmore was the most excited. He was raring to go and couldn’t wait to show off how cool he is doing everything that Dad can do.
Pie was reluctant, and washed hers down with water. I don’t know if that counts as eating bugs in South Korea, but it’s more than I could do.
Eclair was a trooper and took a spoonful and even chewed it up. She protested and said gross, ew, the whole time she was eating the bugs in South Korea, but I’ve seen the girl put up more of a fight over broccoli. And no one made her do this, either. This was all her choice.
I spent the next hour trying not to throw up. The smell was horrendous and that, combined with the mental image of creepy crawlies in my mouth, was too much for my sensitive palate.
Despite what Gabriel told you in the video he did not finish the cup, but placed it in the cup holder of our stroller and then covered it with baby wipes. The smell and the visuals continued to follow us around, wafting through my nostrils. To make matters worse, we ended up down a backside enclosed corridor where every fish restaurant at Namdaemun Market was preparing their dishes and depositing their waste down the outside drains. Normally, I like fish, but today the stench was repulsive. I thought I was done for, but we managed to escape and immediately found some dumplings to drown out my previous nightmares.
Despite my personal aversions to eating beondegi, I’m incredibly proud of my family. While the average person in Korea might not eat bugs nightly for dinner, this ritual has a 4,000 year history in this culture. Dating back to the 1600’s silkworms were treated as sacred creatures who provided material for clothing, medicine, vitality and strength. In fact, beondegi has many nutritional properties not the least of which is protecting against alzheimer’s disease. Because the pupae are high in fiber, they were considered a great snack for children. Today, many people still consume the beondegi with nostalgic. Our children faced up to this adventure and tackled it as part of experiencing the Korean culture and earned their worldschooling degrees with high marks.
Realizing the market was not going to have much cheap clothing, and without anything pressing to do we found our way back to where we started, and took a deeper look at the street food. We finally found the hotteok that everyone has been telling us about. The street food dessert that made us fall in love with Korea all over again.
Hotteok is a fried pancake filled with nuts and honey. Typically it is only sold in the winter, but it is amazing and should not be restricted from the masses during warm spells. We got one filled with honey and nuts, one with cinnamon and sugar and nuts, and one with cheese and vegetables. We immediately bought two more filled with honey.
We saw baby crabs…
…woks full of something red and spicy…
…pomegranate juice, or rice drink?
…almonds breathing fire on chickens.
It was all so good, well everything besides eating bugs in South Korea. On our way out we were in for one more surprise! We found a vendor selling suitcases! We really needed a new carry-on and he had these adorable sized hardshell spinners for ₩30,000. I wanted to buy three, but Gabriel used his free speech to insist we just buy one. Widmore claimed a yellow one as his own.
As much as we wanted to eat all the street food at Namdaemun Market, our plans for the night were to spend it at the Yeouido Hangang Park along the Han River. This park is known for their Bamdokkaebi Market and a lively family friendly night scene including dozens of food trucks. And, well, you know how much we like to eat…