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Synthesis - Columns

From 2008 to 2015 I wrote a weekly column for Synthesis Weekly under the name Zooey Mae. What started as an outlet to review graphic novels and comic books evolved over the years to cover everything from pop culture to whatever menial event was happening in my life. Looking back, I think I spent much too much time regaling Chico with tales of my allergies. 

South Korea: Part Two

Originally published in Synthesis Weekly: April 2014

Let’s see, where were we… We’d arrived to our hotel, which was in what my Korean sister-in-law described as the “Los Angeles” area of Seoul. This was evidenced by the fact that not only did every block have several coffee shops, but every other block had a plastic surgery storefront. With names like “Grand Plastic Surgery,” “Second Coming Plastic Surgery,” and giant posters advertising before and after pictures; it was a little unnerving.

The Hotel

The best thing about the hotel was probably the fresh squeezed kiwi juice every morning. The worst thing was probably the bathroom. Specifically the fancy toilet from the future that had about thirty buttons. I know that a futuristic toilet robot probably sounds amazing, but with the added caveat of having to listen to your dad giggle while he experimentally presses buttons, it becomes… not cool. Not cool at all, you guys.

The Food

Something I noticed pretty immediately after visiting a few of the restaurants there was how trusting Koreans are with fire. A lot of the restaurants there are the type where they bring you raw meat and/or veggies, and you grill it at your table. A hole in the center is filled with red hot coals, and metal grates are brought out every few minutes to ensure nothing sticks to the grill. I tried to imagine a place like that in Chico, but I’m pretty sure that it would only take about a week or two before some mouth-breathing Wildcat drunkenly stumbled and tossed hot coals onto the other patrons.

One of the fire-in-the-table spots we visited featured a soup that was a murky dark brown color. It also had a brick of something solid in the center that looked like a chunk of raw liver. Mirin warned us that this was blood soup (the brick in the center was congealed blood), and although it was a very traditional dish, she advised against trying it. Not that I was dying to eat congealed blood anyway, but I didn’t try it.

Bauhouse, AKA “Heaven”

Somewhere in my pre-Korea, panic-induced research, I stumbled across a listing that sounded, frankly, too good to be true. Bauhouse (no, not the English goth band from the ‘70s), is a puppy cafe. South Korea is packed to the gills with people, and although it’s a giant city, the living spaces are generally pretty compact, making pets rather unpopular. Enter pet cafes! Where the average denizen can come in, order a cup of coffee and hang out with a large number of dogs, cats, or sheep. Why sheep? I have no idea. I don’t really care about sheep. But puppies? I am all about puppies. You can also purchase a bag of treats, and get dirty looks from the other patrons as every single dog comes running over to hang out with you. I almost wish we didn’t have such stringent health code laws here so that we could have a puppy cafe on every corner. No cat or sheep cafes though, that’s just irresponsible.

Korea Does Disneyland Better Than America

That’s right, I said it. But keep in mind, I think Disneyland is stupid. However, if you take me to an indoor/outdoor amusement park where the rides feature such whimsical misspellings as “Sindbad’s Adventure” and all the employees dress like extras from an elementary school production of Aladdin (with raccoon tails), well then that sounds delightful. This place was overflowing with animatronic animals, and rides that featured heavy-handed storytelling, with smoke and mirrors. And by that I mean literal smoke from smoke machines, and lots of mirrors. The mirrors were mostly concentrated in the mirror maze, which I went into. They made us put on plastic gloves, then we stumbled our way through the hallway of mirrors, which had about the same amount of black lights and lasers than fast skate at Cal Skate. (That was a 1995 Chico joke, for those of you who weren’t around then, it was a magical time).

I Have Seen The Future, And It Is Efficient

My brother and I also visited T.um, a museum of technology where we took a tour a saw the various technological advances that will be available on the market in ten to fifteen years. I have seen the future, and it consists of self-driving cars with constant connectivity to the cloud, where all our information will be stored. Also your house will be a giant robot that can monitor your health, communication, and entertainment. It’s basically like that Halloween episode of The Simpsons when they turn the house into a robot (voiced by Pierce Brosnan), and it eventually tries to kill them. Hopefully they’ve seen that episode and have put countermeasures in place for such an event. Apparently the technology already exists, but the struggle is getting it to market. If you want to see a better representation of this technology, check out their website: tum.sktelecom.com

The Wedding

If you all remember from last week, the whole reason we went there was to hold a wedding in Korea for my sister-in-law’s family to attend, since they were unable to come for the first one a few years ago. Mirin’s parents decided to go full traditional for this wedding, with multiple costume changes for the bride and groom, and an eight course dinner. The wedding took place in the courtyard at a palatial estate once owned by the emperor. It was up at the top of a giant hill, with a stark white path of blossoming trees carving sharp lines down the hill. The groom’s parents sat at the right side of the wedding stage (yes, stage), and the bride’s to the left. The groom (my brother), was carried in on a “gama,” a platform with a chair, carried by four men who yelled things in Korean as Spencer waved from atop his makeshift throne. Then the bride was brought in, in a windowless box that couldn’t have been more than three feet across and three feet deep. She emerged, looking like a perfect cake topper in bright blue and yellow robes, and they made their way to the top of the stairs on the stage. Their wedding had a lot of stages and rituals to it, and while these took place, an impeccably dressed serving staff brought us small courses of food. Some of the wedding rituals included the washing of hands (to signify a clean mind and body), and a ceremonial piggy back ride, where Spencer had to hoist Mirin up and carry her around a table stacked high with figs and walnuts. After many more small courses of food, speeches, and a costume change by the bride and groom, the wedding was abruptly called on account of snow.

I was in Korea for a total of ten days, and my lasting impressions from that short time are that the people are incredibly nice, the food is a mixed bag, and the puppy cafes are—OH MY GOD THE PUPPY CAFE! Someone open a puppy cafe here please. Zooey, out.

Arielle Mullen