Published: May 4th 2013May 2nd 2013
The second day of our vacation was the one where we really got into Seoul to see things, and also marks where you get a lot of my thoughts about the country and culture along with the recap - this might get long, but I swear, it's... well, marginally interesting, haha. Anyway, there were two main themes to our Korean trip, and they were:
1) MAKING FRIENDS!!!, and
2) I don't know what is happening right now.
The first thing we noticed about Korea was, as we had been warned, that it is a great deal dirtier than Japan. However, I think that because our frame of reference was from Japan and not somewhere like America, that it seemed dirty, but Michele commented that if we'd come from Thailand, where she lived for three years, it would seem really clean. So that was something to think about as we were traveling. It's also worth noting that we had trouble wrapping our brains around how much money things were/we were spending due to the difference in denominations, but that we ended up just converting everything in our heads back to yen. The true sign of an ex-pat, it seems, is
when you are no longer operating with your original country as your frame of reference.
Anyway, we started off our first day with DUNKIN' DONUTS because it was a minute away from our hostel and I was so excited to get real coffee again. Korea, you are doing this right. We had massive, massive fail because we didn't realize that we were supposed to get our own donuts (whoops!) but the poor staffers were kind enough to deal with us being dumb and use what limited English they knew to explain things. They get an A+ in my book! Then we decided we would follow the advice and map that our hostel friend gave us and head towards Changgyeonggun Palace. It was only a ten minute walk from our hostel!
Korean architecture is similar to Japanese - you can see how Asian countries influenced each other - but also unique and different, and very colorful, and I thought it was great. We walked around the palace and took some pictures, and also read up on how Japanese occupation had really decimated parts of the palace that used to exist. It's always interesting when you realize that America and
England aren't the only countries that practiced some pretty major imperialism and occupation/colonization, and there was a lot of Korean history we learned from the palace walk itself. People were really nice, and kept trying to talk to us as we were there, in English - which was our first glimpse of how Koreans are far more talkative and outgoing as a whole than Japanese are.
Then we went down to the Korean War Memorial, which was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be! I thought it was just a statue, which I wanted to see, but it turned out to be several memorials and old planes, tanks and ships that were used during the fighting. It was really cool to see those and to get a real frame of reference for them. The Korean War isn't something I'm up to snuff with in terms of knowledge, but with the North Korean threats coming daily, it seemed like a good time to learn.
Getting around on the metro was interesting, because it was a HELLUVA lot cheaper than Japan - our trips from stop to stop, pretty much anywhere, were always 1,150 won, which
is like 115 yen. You can't even get ON the train in Japan for that much money, because you are guaranteed a fare of at least 120 yen even if you only go one stop. Like, it will literally deny you entrance if you have 80 yen or something on your PASMO card. The metro in Korea took us a distance of one stop and of 30 minutes for the same price, which we thought was pretty economical in terms of tourism! However, the downsides of the Korean Metro system are:
1) the trains don't come very often at all!,
2) there is no train etiquette for getting on, pushing your way off, or talking on your cell phone, and
3) to get to the opposite side, for instance, like if you missed your stop and need to get going back the other way, you have to go in and out the emergency exits near the turnstiles because unlike Japan, the tracks are not just opposite sides of the same area.
We got lunch at a noodle place near the memorial, and while we were inside, it started raining. I was annoyed, since weather.com on my ipod had
told me that it was NOT going to rain at all the entire trip, but this was just the start of weather.com not knowing heads or tails about what was happening in Korea. NOT HELPFUL AT ALL. We decided to wait it out and then made a run for the nearest subway entrance when it hit a lull.
By the time we got to our next destination, which was a shopping mall, it had stopped raining and was sunny again. Unimpressed, lol. But going through the mall was another interesting experience - it wasn't set up like American malls, with clearly defined shops, or like Japanese ones, with less clearly defined shops but still boundaries. Instead, it was like an indoor market with tiny stalls and shopkeepers who were VERY keen on getting you to look. One guy grabbed Michele's arm and started bartering with her, and others kept trying to talk to us in English. It was actually a bit of an overload, which made me a bit uncomfortable, but Michele dealt with it a lot better than I did.
We met up with Michele's friend Joe, who lives and teaches in Korea, and he took us
to a Korean fast food place with typical Korean dishes. It was really good, and we ate a lot, and then we walked around Myeong-dong, a shopping area he frequented a lot. This was much more like Japan, and felt more familiar.
Eventually, we went back to our stop, and moseyed around to get some sticker pictures - the Korean purikura! We decided that we liked it better, even though it was double the price of the Japanese ones, because you got more options and more time to add bling to your pictures, and you got to choose the ones you took that looked the best. We met some Korean military guys there, who wanted to say hello to us, haha. They were also taking sticker pictures, in their army uniforms. Love it!
We were pretty tired after a full day of sight-seeing, so we made our way back to the hostel and tried to sleep, only the guys next to us were up talking until after midnight and being loud, but we got giggly and hysterical in our room, so I suppose it was okay, haha. Finally, some sleep!!
There are more photos below