This is sort of a strange post but it emphasises why I dislike visiting a foreign country without being able to read and speak the local language. Anything using the Latin Alphabet (that is, ABC) I can cope with.
I know most countries will now have some signs in English. Internet-based translation tools are very helpful, as is sign language, smiling or sadly, in the case of very rich tourists, waving around lots of cash.
However, I like reading what’s on the menu, so it was essential that for this trip to Seoul I learnt how to read 한 글 Hangeul, the Korean script.
On a visit to the Museum of Korea today there was a small section on King Sejong the Great, who advanced and developed the idea of a written script that would unite the Korean people. Prior to this, Chinese characters were used and as I can personally testify, learning one character for one word is just difficult. It’s not impossible: after all, over one billion people in China do so, but it’s not as simple as ABC or ㄱㄴㄷ.
King Sejong is the nation’s favourite king and there is a big monument to him on Sejong-ro in Seoul (photo above). His portrait is on the 10,000 won note.
Looking around for dinner on our first night in Seoul, I decided some tofu stew would be good in such cold weather. Jaedong Sundubu was recommended but I suspected the menu would only be in Korean.
Taking the plunge into a darkened alleyway in Bukchon in search of a local dining experience was not as scary as entering the place. At 8pm in the evening Jaedong Sundubu was full of groups of office workers – all of them men. So we enter, one woman and one foreigner.
In fact I wonder if the lovely owners of the place were more concerned that we would ask for an English menu.
On the wall was a menu, written entirely in Korean, but I am happy to report that I could actually read and understand all the items on it. This is progress, with a big reward of a hearty and hot meal which cost £9 for two, including a litre of bottled water and service.
For any non-Korean speaker who wants to visit this restaurant, a translation of all the items on the menu follows in the next post.