Up at 8:30am. Elaine and I took our sweet time figuring we could grab a cup of coffee and discuss our plans over breakfast with our Korean goodwill tour guide. SungChoon, our guide, arrived promptly at 9:30am and there was no time to spare. We made a mad dash to catch the bus.
Elaine and I had read about Sido, Sindo and Modo in the Lonely Planet guidebook, three small islands off of the west coast of Seoul. The book described the islands as beautiful seaside farming villages, a non-tourist oasis that modern Koreans are eager to avoid and forget. Our guide had never been to the islands. The book did not indicate the islands were two and a half hours from the center of Seoul. We wound up taking a bus, the subway, transferring to a high speed train, another bus, a ferry ride, and one more bus. No wonder the guide had us running around with no breakfast.
The islands felt like Maine, wafting of warm pine needle and sea scents, and were surrounded by wide mudflats. We arrived at noon and took a short taxi ride to the nearest restaurant. We learned from the driver that the islands had 900 residents, most farmers with vineyards, rice fields or sweet potato crops. Lunch was delicious and consisted of seafood noodles, beef and rice soup and various kinds of kimchi (cucumber was our favorite).
The best part of the day was dinner with Chuck and Tak at their favorite stand in one of the markets. We received VIP treatment from the chef since Chuck and Tak are weekly regulars. We had a blast drinking rice wine and trying their favorite Korean dishes: fried chive leaves, tofu, mini fish omelets, scallion cakes, garlic cloves soaked in soy sauce, squid, and best of all, grilled fish. Tina and Mark would’ve loved it; we made sure to drink extra rice wine in honor of the Wichmanns. One interesting custom in Korea is you never pour your own drink -- others must pour it for you and you accept the drink by cradling it with both hands.
It was a wonderful trip. People asked if I sensed any tension relating to the former president’s recent suicide or the escalating conflict with North Korea; I sensed nothing and life on the ground appeared completely normal. Elaine is staying on in Seoul, meeting up with her sister Lucinda, and will be visiting the DMZ (the demilitarized zone that separates North from South Korea). I suspect Elaine and her sister will get a better sense for how the South Koreans are feeling about these issues.