Bi Bim Boppin’
It was not easy to leave the comfort of the Siloam sauna.
But the rain had stopped for the time being, and we were beginning to feel a little stir crazy in the mostly windowless and anecdote ridden confines of the bathhouse, so leave we did. Outside, the streets were dry and the city felt strangely ghost-like as we road out into the early morning light.
We were fully loaded, but happy to allow our path to meander across town. Our eventual destination was a place called the Bebop guesthouse. One thing we had realized while in the Siloam was that the Jimjilbang can be somewhat of a temporal and spatial vortex… it’s very hard to come and go from it as you would a normal hotel, since the check in process involves removing your clothes and locking your shoes in a difficult to access locker behind the front desk. To make matters worse, windows are very rare, and all your needs are more or less satisfied inside. These spas were great, but if we were going to get some good wheeling in, it might be useful to do base ourselves at a guesthouse, at least until we had perfected our Jimjilbanging methodology.
As we rode on smooth new Korean pavement, we quickly noticed both bikes were making a terrible squealing racket. It was easy to locate the source of the distressing sound. Our bikes had after all been parked for about 24 hours, outdoors, in monsoon rains. Last time we’d done that was on the island of Java and we had encountered the same issue: the rain had washed all lubrication from the chains, and left them a rusting mess. A quick trip to one of Seoul’s ubiquitous convenience stores solved that problem.
Back on the road again, running smooth and silent, I began to allow myself to enjoy the comforting sensation of wheeling through a wealthy country again. Thanks in part to the good people of Seoul, and in part to the torrential downpours of the day before, the city had a rather freshly scrubbed gleam to it.
We continued our rambling approach to the Bebop guesthouse, wheeling through giant five or six way empty intersections. We were later to learn it was a bit of a holiday weekend in Seoul, but at the time it felt unsettlingly similar to the early scenes of a zombie film. When we spotted one, we decided to take a detour through a street market. I pulled my fully loaded speed TR over to examine a large pile of roasted pork knuckles, and struck up a kind of language-less conversation with the vendor. He insisted we sample some of his home-made rice liquor. It was interesting, but incredibly boozy not to mention a little sweet for my taste. We thanked him using the only Korean words we possessed and moved on.
In a very Kuala-Lumpur-esque series of events, we found ourselves unwittingly siphoned onto a startlingly busy highway. This was reassuring from the standpoint that we were finally witnessing evidence of human life here in Seoul, but quickly lost its charm as we were forced to endure a mile or two of dense traffic before we could find an exit. The highway ejected your humble correspondents into a new neighborhood, this one with much wider streets and a more corporate feel traffic was slightly more active here as well. The extended highway speeds while fully loaded had awakened the hunger that had not quite yet risen during the earlier pork knuckle incident, and we decided to choose a restaurant at random.
It seemed the neighborhood had only rather fancy places (not to mention that half of the restaurants were closed). So after very atypical exchange of logistical banter, we decided to splurge. The trip was, after all, nearing it’s end. This was a fact that had not seemed real to me, something which I had not even considered thinking about previously. But something about the departure from China and the entry into Korea had removed a mental block. Just perhaps, it seemed, we might be deserving of some celebration having made it to this clean and comfortable land.
And so we sat down and ordered a feast: a Sausage platter, a sizzling beef innards soup, a bowl of Kimchee noodles, all with plenty of Banchan. Korea, we decided, will be a good place for feasting.
Spotting a great red bridge, we decided to brave the bike-lane-less traffic and head over the the other side of the Han river. The other side was a grassier place than we had hitherto seen in Seoul, and we spotted a large and crowded bike path below us. Scott called it as the next way-point and we headed down.
Soon we came up upon a giant system of fountains and cubist stepping stone walkways. People were nipping in and out of the water on bikes and wandering around the fountains generally enjoying themselves. We’d thought Koreans were work-aholics, but this Seoul seemed to be full of people adhering to a strict regiment of leisure activity.
After a few moments of taking in the fountain and the nearby municipal bicycle rental station, we headed back down the path. We stopped next when we stumbled upon a group of young Korean men playing with their motorcycles. We paused straddling our Speed TRs and watched the men whip around the parking lot pulling wheelies and doing other tricks the names of which I do not care to research.
With our dose of Seoul motor-sports freshly crossed off the list, we hit the path again, wheeling on past crowds of people, from amateur riders to seriously outfitted racers. Our surrondings began to slowly transition into a more wooded suburban area as we continued to follow the river, which we began to notice was very high. And it had been ever higher in the recent past as well, as evidenced by huge sections of the train that were covered with river plants and mud from flooding.
After riding for some time upstream, we spotted an elevator designed to bring pedestrians up to one of the many bridges spanning the mighty Han river, and decided to take it up and back to the other side. From atop the bridge, we had a serious view of the extent of the flood damage.
Across the bridge, again we found ourselves unable to keep from being siphoned onto another busy highway. To make matters worse, the artery was flowing the opposite direction from our new favorite westerner ridden Seoul guest-house, the Bebop. So we called a subversive garede aus (which is the maneuver our dear Stew Motta liked to refer to as Salmoning) and rode against the flow of traffic until we spotted an exit point which involved only some minor hoisting of the Speed TRs over a concrete embankment.
We carried our bikes down a crumbling set of stairs and over a few more embankments before emerging on a very strange space travel themed playground.
As interesting as the playground was, we decided that night was fast approaching and we had better return to our guest house before we got siphoned onto another giant highway this time at night with no signals on our bikes. Luckily, not far from the bizarre playground, we found a parallel bike path on this side of the river, and we began to really lay into the bikes, pushing the concrete of the path underneath and past us, launching over speed bumps, potholes, and the occasional flood related mud-slick.
Plenty hungry, and back in our neighborhood, we parked the bikes outside the Bebop guest-house, and headed out on foot in search of a Korean BBQ pork restaurant. These grill your own meat places are a favorite with AsiaWheeling, and we’d been looking forward to them ever since our interest was peaked eating the Lao combination BBQ and hot pot.
We consumed grilled meat wrapped in lettuce, sweet onion relish, kimchee, and a kind of cold seaweed salad until we could not fit another bite. Feasting was going to be a favorite theme here. And as we strolled happily, bellies full, back towards the Bebop, a feeling of great contentedness and warm excitement about our coming adventures in Korea befell us. We took in the brightly lit city, speculating actively about the quirks of Korean branding strategy.