Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Itaewon: Pul Hyanggi and the Grand Hyatt Terrace

Finally, Sang-chuel Choe and I made contact and arranged to get together on this day of Korean Independence. I had already had met for lunch with Professor Doo-jin Han, and with Youngju and Han went to the new National Museum of Korea, so the day had been rather full. Youngju shared some time as I waited for Sang-chuel in the lounge of the Seoul Plaza. (The day had brought one minor disaster: I lost my camera in a taxi without much hope of recovering it.)

As we waited in the lounge, Youngju pointed out a match-making date in progress, which I learned is a very common event in hotel lounges. Korea is filled with such elegant and fanciful lounges, so it seems a great ritual for seeking and finding the mate of your dreams.

Sang-chuel finally fought his way through the notorious Seoul traffic jams arriving slightly after 7 p.m. He drove to a restaurant just beside the Itaewon area, Pul Hyanggi, which he explained means the scent or fragrance of grasses. This was a traditional Korean restaurant and I am not sure exactly what Sang-chuel ordered, but the food kept coming for an hour and twenty minutes with delectable dishes I had never seen or tasted before. It was a fest for royalty and a truly unforgettable experience. The woman dressed in traditional Korean fashion who served as our host orchestrated the meal with grace and devotion, making each dish resonate with its own special meaning and aura.

Sang-chuel telephoned Insook and arranged for her to meet us at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in nearby (very nearby) Itaewon, a cosmopolitan, upscale district appealing to international travelers and Koreans seeking a more multicultural setting. We drove along the main street of Itaewon and I felt as though we were in another country. I had read about this thriving Itaewon section in the Korean Airline's magazine, Morning Calm, and in this brief sojourn it more than lived up to the promise of the article.

The Grand Hyatt was a blast. The moment you entered, you felt like you had entered a different world. It was pulsing with energy. The lounge was filled with young people bent on romance and celebration, aided and abetted by a piano player who pulled the essence of Korean dreamy pop from the ivories with an appropriate rubato spirit of wanderlust.

We went to Sang-chuel's favorite Hyatt hangout, The Terrace. I can only say that the view from the terrace was spectacular, a panoramic view of Seoul and the Han river. We looked south from Mount Namsan across the river to the new city, and I thought I had a sense of where COEX and Chungang University might be located in that distant view. While we waited for Insook a waiter walked around the restaurant with a sign that had little bells ringing. Sang- chuel explained it was another meeting of strangers hoping to meet their dreammate.

Insook joined us shortly and we invested some calories in the desserts and coffee. I had the Mango Cup which totally destroyed any hope I had of trying to stay within range of my diet. But what the heck...it's Korea, after all.

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