A little earlier than this time last year, Heather decided that she would quite like the companionship of an occasionally charming, science-minded Korean Australian adoptee with an ambiguous sense of humour. And so we tied the knot against a backdrop of the beautiful Haeundae Beach in Busan. Now that the honeymoon is over, I've relapsed into my usual bouts of intolerable cynicism and chronic laziness. Heather survives each day by locking herself in the bathroom with a copy of Newsweek whenever I get home, and only emerges after I eventually awake in the morning and stumble in the direction of the lab, with last night's soju bottle still in hand.
Just kidding. Actually I think we've done pretty well for ourselves. We're both fairly busy, but always share breakfast together in the mornings and still enjoy shopping at the Wondang Markets on weekends. I think the secret to surviving your first year of marriage is to take it easy, don't place too many expectations on each other and put your dirty clothes in the washing machine instead of leaving them in piles on the floor, like you did in bachelor life.
Because we survived our first year without any screaming, slammed doors, fisticuffs or tears, a celebration was in order. Now I was thinking about a nice restaurant and perhaps a movie, but Heather had her sights set on The Shilla, a five-star hotel in the centre of Seoul. She, being the more financially responsible among us, controls our household finances and said we could afford the cheapest room for a night. A firm decision by the Lady of the One-Room leaves me in no position to argue.
So we made our booking and the plans were set in proverbial stone. However, fortune chose to smile upon us that night, in the form of one of my two favourite nuna, Judy Jang, who attended our wedding last year. Judy Nuna works at the Shilla Hotel concierge desk, and upgraded our room free of charge.
You know you're somewhere flash when you get a room key that looks like it opens a treasure chest.
Needless to say, we were impressed with the amenities. I was particularly taken by how spotless the carpet was, and how many different places there were, where one could sit comfortably and possibly write a novella.
Judy left this nice little note for us and a box of chocolates. At the time, the news of Heather's pregnancy had just escaped the maternity clinic.
Thank you, Judy Nuna.
That night there was a winery tour on the hotel grounds. Let me be the first to say that somebody at The Shilla really knows how to grow grass.
A trail of lanterns illuminated a stone pathway, bringing back memories of childhood fairytales from Die Brüder Grimm.
There were four wine stations hidden amongst the foliage, bubbly, red, white and rose'.
Heather, my once stalwart wine-consuming buddy, was limited to enjoying the scenery and having a sniff and the odd cautious sip from a fraction of the wines on offer. I had offered not to drink as well, but the tour was free, so she said I should make the most of it. And so I did, with a little civilized reservation. She even held an extra glass for me, so I wouldn't have to line up again.
Now that's what I call being a good sport.
Now that's what I call being a good sport.
The tour ended in this little pagoda, with cheese and blueberries. We enjoyed taking our shoes off and walking around on the grass, which was so spongy it felt a little like a bouncy castle.
The architecture on the hotel grounds is quite impressive and resembles what I assume would have been the residences of people who had money during the Shilla dynasty.
Although The Shilla has some enticing restaurants, we decided that splurging again would be a little too cheeky, and ventured out for some local cuisine. We found a nice jokbal restaurant nearby, and for under twenty thousand won consumed enough pork to feed a family of four.
Long ago, I once said on this blog that I really like buffet breakfasts. That turned out to be one of the main reasons that Heather set her sights on staying at The Shilla from the beginning. What did I do to deserve such a lovely wife?
Maybe this is destiny's way of letting me know that I'm going to have to change a lot of soiled nappies in the near future.
I decided to follow my Classic Buffet Strategy™, starting with salads and light appetizers to get a good feel for the journey. Wherever it is that the Shilla kitchenhands do their shopping, I'm pretty sure it's not even the famed Wondang Markets of Nakseongdae. I soon realised due to the Kalamata olives, the freshly ripened lentils and the existence of dill. These are the kinds of exotic ingredients that Kim Jong-il gets airlifted to his armoured train.
Of all the buffet breakfasts I've meandered through in my life, I would have to say that the spread at the Shilla Hotel is the gold medal winner. They have a dedicated bakery section and an array of attentive chefs whipping up all manner of astronomical gastronomy. The service was excellent too, but for me, the deal-sealer was that somewhere in the bustling backwaters of the Shilla kitchens there must be a head chef of the Cantonese section who can cook well enough to make Jackie Chan come back for thirds.
Just thinking about good Cantonese cooking makes my legs turn into Lo Mein.
Hello home-made fishballs. Hello fresh coriander. Hello green vegetable and clear soup.
It has been a while since, but I remember I could barely speak during gustation.
This is what Heather's final plate looked like. By this time we had eaten enough buffet breakfast to feed four families.
We enjoyed a morning siesta and late check-out that fine Sunday. Touring the grounds before leaving, I realised that even such memorable enjoyment would always lose its potency if continued over extended periods of time. As an adaptive species, we are doomed to an inevitable desensitisation toward every indulgence that is overdone.
But I think that being married to a lovely partner is not really an indulgence in that sense. It's more like a journey of continuous discovery kept alive by the evolving nature of companionship.
Here's to the next ten years, my dear.