South Korea

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    • Day 14

      Bullet train to Seoul

      September 20, 2010 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 70 °F

      A big shout out to Sherri Hufford for the tip on Dunkin Donuts coffee. There was a Dunkin Donuts in the Mokpo train station, where I enjoyed a lovely Americano before boarding. I rode the KTX train up to Seoul this morning. It reaches speeds of 300 kph (~180 mph), but you'd never know it. It’s a smooth ride, even with the countryside zipping by. I was in the city in no time.

      I left my bags off at Jay’s apartment and walked down to Itaewon’s shopping district. It’s a lively street with souvenir shops, brand name stores, coffee houses, and Dunkin Donuts lining the street. It feels much more international here than in the south. Of course, I am quite near the embassies and the US Army barracks, which might have something to do with it. As I was lollygagging, someone called my name. Yes, someone called my name. I turned my attention to the voice, and it was the Canadian I met last week at the barbeque. What are the odds: I know maybe 10 people in a city of 13 million, and I happen to run into one of them. Weird. Anyway, he invited me to lunch, which I declined, but I did join him and a friend for a drink. I got some shopping tips, as well as recommendations on where to find the best items. I’ll be checking out one of the markets tomorrow, while I’m out exploring. Until then, I figured there was enough to keep me busy in Itaewon.

      In the first store, there was a Korean woman working the floor. She was showing me everything I should buy. I was considering a robe but didn’t feel like I could make a good decision since I hadn’t visited any other stores. She was able to corner me in the back, behind a pile of textiles, where she wanted to show me more styles and colors. There, she started turning up the pressure and lowering the price, but I wasn’t convinced that I wanted anything. "Maybe you buy one for daughter," she suggested. Yeah, not a point of sale for me. "Or maybe you mother might like one," she continued. Yeah, don't have one of those either. But she was persistent and went for the kill. She explained to me that I was her first customer of the day. In Korean culture the first customer must buy something, otherwise she will have bad luck for the rest of the day. I tried to emphasize that I had not done any shopping yet, and I wanted to look around first. More forcefully, she again explained Korean culture and added that it was very offensive if I did not buy anything, being the first customer and all.

      I think she had bad luck all day.

      I got back to the apartment just ahead of Imy and Jay. I emptied my bags (filled with merchandise from other less insulting stores) directly into my suitcase, then Jay and I chatted while Imy kindly cooked up a Filipino dinner for us. It was fantastic. I definitely think she should open a restaurant! Kim and I will have to visit Jay when he gets back to the States, just so we can enjoy Imy’s cooking (of course his living in Hawaii will have nothing to do with it).
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    • Day 15

      Wonder Woman, Wet and Wild!

      September 21, 2010 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 63 °F

      Last night when Jay asked what my plans were for today, I listed three sights I wanted to visit-all of them are outside. This morning, when I got up, I looked outside and couldn't decide if it was foggy or cloudy. I pulled up the weather report on the internet and saw that there was a 90% chance of precipitation. Even before I could shut the computer down, it began to rain. And rain. And rain… I pulled out Plan B and decided to hit a couple of museums instead.

      I arrived first at the Prison Hall History museum. I love old prisons! They’re so creepy. And this one didn’t disappoint, especially given the dreary, overcast atmosphere. It was built in 1907, during the Japanese occupation, to torture and hold political prisoners. (I’m excited to try a few new pain-inducing moves on my little brother next time I see him!) There were several cell blocks, as well as the execution house. It was chilling. There was an area where they hung the prisoner, who then dropped through the floor. Once a person was deceased, he would be removed from the rope via a room in the basement. From there, the Japanese would take away the body through a side exit.

      The last building on the tour was the women’s holding facility. There was a young woman highlighted in the history of the facility. She was 17, when she organized and led an uprising against the Japanese occupants in 1919. She was subsequently imprisoned, where, a year later, she organized the inmates in another protest on the anniversary of the first one. Although she met a very early death, she is revered in Korean history, with posthumous decorations and monuments in her name.

      As I left the Prison Museum, the rain really began to pick up and become a constant, heavy downpour. I was soaked by the time I got to the National Museum of Korea, but I figured it would let up by the time it took to view the displays. The museum is three floors, and I started on the first floor, which contains the Korean peninsula’s history beginning in the Paleolithic Age. The museum is well-organized, with great displays of the nation’s past. I was very fortunate that they had a special exhibition running of the articles found in the Silla tombs in Gyeongju. These are the same tombs I saw last week, so I was particularly interested in the display. The Silla artifacts were amazing. I particularly liked the royal crowns. They were made of the thinnest gold, with three tree symbols along the front of the crown and two antlers rising from the back. Each was as flat as a piece of paper, with small discs adorning the entire headdress. They even had shoes to match! I ended up strolling the first floor so long I didn’t have the time to get to the other two stories. I had dinner planned for tonight, so I needed to get back to Jay and Imy’s before 5pm.

      The rain was torrential when I came out of the museum. I got to the end of one set of stairs and had to traverse a 6 inch puddle. As I was scoping out other ways to get around (of which there were none), an older Korean man asks, "You American?" I answered affirmatively, then we both plunged into the water. We walked together, and he had a lot of questions for me. I was trying to be polite, but he was walking really slowly, and I was getting soaking wet. No bother to him. He just kept asking questions, and I would frequently have to ask for clarification because I couldn’t understand his English. Finally he looks at me and says, “You said you were American. English is your native language. I’m speaking English. Why can’t you understand me!” Well, maybe it’s your accent? I was thinking, but I just smiled and said his English was good. It wasn’t until we arrived at the subway station that he looked around and noticed his friend was no longer with him. He turned to find him, and I made a bee line for the train. I had never seen him with someone, and I wondered if he hadn’t left his friend at the museum.

      I then learned what I hope is my last transportation lesson in Korea. The subway doors don’t automatically open when you put your hand in to stop them. Specifically, when they are closing, they will squish you rather than open back up. Luckily, my boob stopped the door long enough for the rest of my body to get in, but I think it’ll leave a mark. Unfortunately I was not wearing my breast plate; however, I would have made Wonder Woman proud. I suppose there would have been no harm in waiting for the next train, but I really wanted to get back to Jay’s apartment and out of the weather.

      Now, remember I used the word torrential to describe the rain? Well, that was probably an understatement. Jay said he was evacuated from work and his car almost floated away due to the storm. I watched the water in the streets get so high that the traffic movement caused small waves to crash over the sidewalks and onto the buildings. Then there was walking up the stairs and hill to the apartment. It reminded me of hiking in Thailand, where we had to walk in a creek the whole way, except this one had intermittent waterfalls. The good news is that the rain let up for me to treat Jay and Imy to dinner. We had yummy Thai food, which always makes everything right in the world.
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    • Day 14

      Seoul Round 2

      May 15, 2023 in South Korea ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

      Flew back to Seoul for Round 2 on this trip. What was originally scheduled as Sokcho became Seoul as I was concerned with the overall travel for the day as well as activities within Sokcho. While part of the reason of going to Sokcho was to stay in a hotel overlooking the sea a hottub, it no longer quite make sense timewise.

      One of the things I'd wanted to do in Sokcho was visit Mt Seorak, but there were no tours that I could find. Little that I knew later was that I could've taken a bus. But as always, things happen for a reason and you'll see why later on.

      Anyhows, back to Seoul, I took a mid-morning flight and still got a full afternoon in before meeting my friend for dinner. Since it was sunny this go around, it was off to the Lotte Tower, measuring 555m to check out the views. It is absolutely stunning to see the sprawl of Seoul and marvel at what the Koreans in history would have to say to the view. Yes, they'd reunited the peninsula in the dynasties, but seeing the land covered with buildings instead of just green is quite something. I'd wanted to do the Bridge Tour as well where they clip you and you can actually walk outside, but it was a 2 hour wait. They do have terraces outside though on a lower floor so that is an option as well.

      Coming down from the tower, I took a quick jaunt around the lake, which was beautiful and peaceful. Part of it borders Lotte World the amusement park. Next stop, back to one my favorite Korea activities - cafe hopping.

      This time we're off to Grandpa Factory, featured in the K-drama Vincenzo. It's quite non-descript from the outside as the building and many others in the neighborhood, had a facelift from the original industrial uses. There's a treehouse on the property as well and you can climb into it from the 2nd floor of the cafe. They also serve meals here so you're not limited to drinks/desserts.

      Next it was off to Seoul Forest Park, a nice city park to walk around amongst the locals, and close by my friend's workplace. We ended up going to a Korean Japanese fusion restaurant called Ioro Bistro, before one last dessert at Cafe Marly.
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    You might also know this place by the following names:

    Namsan, 남산

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