Published: May 16th 2011May 15th 2011
Laura and I at the entrance to the palace.
Dear Blog Readers,
Having exhausted Boeun of all its tourist attractions (both of them), it was time to take Christine to Seoul. In Korea, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have been rolled into one kimbab sized package and called, imaginatively, Parent’s Day. It was therefore fitting that we had at least one parent with us to celebrate the day with. We went straight to Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace is built right in the heart of Seoul and is the Korean equivalent to the Taj Mahal.
The architecture and grounds were truly stunning and although the palaces have had to be rebuilt because of the Japanese burning them down (twice), it still manages to hold onto its history and the authenticity. The Korean parent’s lapped up the traditional Korean folk music that had been put on especially for the day. It was also good for Christine to see too. Korean folk singers sound like a hippopotamus yawning, or Laura waking up in the morning.
We fancied something different for dinner so we hunted out ‘Nameste’ which was an authentic Indian restaurant! It smelt amazing and really hit the spot. The house wine was, apparently, truly terrible. It was similar
Gyeonbukgung Palace 2
Making our way to the main palace. Notice the pagoda in the background.
to those bottles of wine you buy at Aldi for £4 to get drunk on at University (according to Laura). The salad was also completely unique. The chef had clearly thought that a normal salad and a fruit salad were synonymous with each other. In one bowl arrived a fruit salad with lettuce leaves surrounding it! Unbelievable! I considered phoning Pizza Hut and asking if they had any spare salad bowls going.
After a cracking Indian, we got a taxi back to our hotel. We’d got a great deal online for it and although it was in a pretty scummy area, it was one of the most extravagant hotels I’ve ever stayed at. It had men outside wearing hats who took your suitcases and put them in the suitcase trolleys that you see in the movies. The lights inside the room could be turned on and off by remote control. I’ve discussed the toilets in South Korea in a previous blog but they are huge and have a large array of buttons that have, up until now, made no sense whatsoever. However, this one was in English! I now know what all the buttons mean and can control them
A long way from home!
with relative safety. Brilliant!
Sunday was a day I was sort of dreading. Laura and her Mum wanted to go shopping. I had mentally prepared myself. The music blaring out of the shops, the women with microphones shouting at you in English to go ‘eye shopping’ and the constant following around by the shop assistance meant that this assault on the senses felt more like I was being physically assaulted. I was quite happy to sit outside the shops and read Michael McIntyre’s autobiography (which is great by the way) and watch the world go by.
As Laura and her Mum shopped in Forever 21 I was mid-read when all of a sudden I became surrounded by about 25 female shop assistants. It was bizarre. I thought for a second that they thought I wanted to buy something so decided, en masse, to come and sell me the entire shop. Luckily, they were all taking their break…at exactly the same time. Bizarre. The assistant manager, who looked about twelve, hurried out and ushered them back into the building.
I was also lucky to see some of the most ridiculous fashion (or in Korean, passion) styles that I’ve
Lots of Buddah's
Lots of Buddah's in Insadong!
ever seen. The attire in Boeun is rare in its extravagance and more along the line of durability and cost-effectiveness. Seoul is a different kettle of fish and for a largely homogenous society, it is interesting to see some of the men and women who are trying desperately to break the mould. One women was wearing a beret with a denim jacket, denim shorts and Wellington boots! A man stood next to me in pink chinos, yes, pink, a white shirt and a woman’s handbag. I was also concerned by the number of plastic surgery advertisements dotted around the city.
In the evening we decided to go to Namsan Tower to see Seoul by night. This isn’t the first time we’ve attempted getting to the top. During our Orientation last August, we ventured out in search of reaching the top and getting back before our midnight curfew. We failed. We only managed to get to the queue to buy tickets to get into the lift to the top before having to turn back and we were still 15 minutes late. This time, we got off the subway and started walking to where our map told us the cable car
Preparing a rice cake with a huge wooden mallet.
was. Admittedly, I’m not exactly an expert map reader, but I’m not map-reading-illiterate. However, this map was simply ridiculous and when we looked around, we realised the point where the cable car should have been was a good kilometre away over a couple of hills.
We assessed the options and considered – what would Bear (Grylls) do? We decided to start climbing up the massive hill towards the tower. It was 9pm and the lifts closed at 10:30pm. Our initial optimism lasted about 30 seconds. Maybe it was because we were shattered climbing a couple of flights of stairs, or maybe it was because there were no wild animal carcasses to graze upon on the way up. About half an hour into the climb we arrived at an observation deck. The base of the tower was still way off in the distance but the views were good enough to take some photos. Moreover, the city was tarnished by a layer of smog so we collectively decided that the view wouldn’t have been much better from the top. Unfortunately there was no helicopter with a rope to grab hold onto Bear-style so we had to walk back down boringly.
Laura: "Don't be so immature."
Me: "But Pete will love this photo."
After a lazy morning we ventured to the Dragon Hill Spa to recover from our gruelling hike nearly to Namsan Tower. Our regular blog-readers know that through trial and tribulations, Laura and I are now experts in spa etiquette so are now in a position to laugh at the mere amateurs who either wear their swimming costumes in the baths or arrive wearing their swimming costumes, realise that everybody is naked, and then run off again. We got the train to the airport to get some dinner before Christine’s flight back home. Her flight was at midnight so we arrived at just after 8pm. Incheon Airport has won the award for the best international airport for six years in a row. However, we have found a flaw. All the bloody restaurants or cafes are closed at 8pm! Our final meal together was supposed to be a poignant affair but instead we settled for a KFC as it was the only thing open. Unbelievable.
That evening we had booked a hotel near the airport for a measley £40. For £40 in England you would probably get a TravelLodge next to a busy motorway with crusty bedsheets. Not in Korea. We
They both have salad in their name so why not combine them?
got a beautiful double King sized bed (they threw in an extra bed too) with a fridge, sink, coffee making facilities, 42 inch HD plasma TV, whirlpool bath, steam sauna shower, and the most ridiculous of all, an internet Ethernet port in the toilet. Unbelievable.
Tuesday was Buddah’s Birthday. His present to us was a national holiday in Korea. Unfortunately, his celebrations were hampered by a torrent of rainfall across the country, and consequently, the lantern festivals that we were hoping to see at Songnisan or Samyeongsamsong were a wash out. Michelle and I are still trying to devise a cunning plan to steal some of the lanterns lining the streets because they look really cool. Let’s hope that they aren’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.
The girl’s high school festival was on Thursday. I’d been booked in to play the piano. I’d also spent the day before previewing all the class performances and the standard was high. I turned up in the morning to test out the two pianos on the stage which, using the thick layer of dust on the top, could have been there for at least a decade. They also sounded like it too. I’d
Thumbs up for the cracking curry!
planned to play one classical piece but the crescendo note at the peak of the song sounded like the hammer had hit some wood rather than a string…strangely it was the same note on both
pianos! Instead, I settled on a blues like I did at the boy’s middle school festival. It went down well even though my playing was terrible but it didn’t seem like the girl’s cared.
The dances that the girl’s had choreographed were ridiculously crude. I didn’t know where to look for most of the time. I turned to the principal, vice principal, teachers and parent governers surrounding me who all seemed oblivious to the girls miming sex acts to the K-Pop tunes blasting out of the speakers. You only have to turn on the TV here and you can see where the students have got it from. There is an underlying current of sexual content to pretty much everything on Korean TV whether it be the adverts, reality shows, and most definitely, the K-Pop groups. The students are simply copying what they see on TV and it seems like everybody is cool with it.
It wasn’t just the performances on stage that
Namsan Bloody Tower
One day we'll make it to the top...
was happening. The students had set up a games room, a movie room, and a tarot-card reading room. I ventured in with my co-teacher to translate and see what came up. The results were, of course, vague, and consequently, pretty accurate. The first card showed that I was content and happy in the past with life – true. The second card showed that I spend too much time preparing for things at the moment and have little free time – true. The final card showed that I’m unsure about my future and need to make some important decisions soon which will impact my career – true.
Friday was Teacher’s Day. A day where teachers are celebrated for being brilliant. First up was an assembly. I was given half a garden to pin to my shirt for the day and then we had the Principal’s speech. The students groaned and all the teachers, in unison, sat down. Mrs Hong translated the opening part of the speech, “This will be very boring.” One of the first grade parents had bought some cakes from Paris Baguette. The cakes there are sensational (remember my piano birthday cake?) so I dug in with gusto
Seoul by night from the observation deck.
with my chopsticks (normal behaviour). I put, what I thought, was a delicious sponge cake into my mouth but it had a weird taste. Carrie sensed something was up and said, “This is sweet potato cake.” Hugely disappointing. Maybe the Koreans assumed because it has the word ‘sweet’ in it then it should definitely be a dessert. By the end of the day I ended up with three rice cakes, two oranges, two mangos and some chocolate.
Laura was going shopping in Seoul with Betty and Stephanie for the weekend. Therefore, I had planned to eat an entire BBQ Rib Pizza School pizza, watch the Bourne Trilogy and play on Call of Duty Black Ops for an uncomfortably long time.
Tink and Laura
There are more photos below