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Published: October 8th 2010
Street markets of Insadong
I just came back from Korea on Thursday. I went to visit a friend from UPS (Pat Owens) in Seoul for the first few days, went down to Cheongju to visit a friend from camp Manito-wish (Ann Pederson) for two days, and then back to Seoul for a night.
Korea is one of the more developed countries of Asia next to Japan. I have heard labels such as Japan Jr., but Korean’s would be angry with such a name. There’s a shared deep resentment of Japan as a country between Korea and China. They’re still very polite and kind to Japanese people, its more of a historical resentment.
All the people I met in Korea were very kind, polite, respectful, and helpful. If you stumble around with the dumb foreigner look on your face for long enough, someone who speaks English (and probably speaks it very well) will help you. They’re also really grateful that you have to come to their country. They want you to learn about their culture and have a pretty good time.
That being said, I was truly shocked coming from China where the car horns blaze over the bustling thousands
Japanese hostel friend that joined us around Insadong
in the street (and am now suffering the opposite effect).
My trip started in Seoul after a flight delay where our airplane taxied around the Nanjing airport for five hours (for a two hour flight). It wasn’t actually that bad because I sat next to a Nanjing Professor who was presenting a paper on China’s relationship between North and South Korea. China’s the sole “friend” of North Korea, but also has good relations with South Korea. He said because of China’s unique relationship with both Korean countries, he doesn’t believe that there will be any serious war problems between the North and South (regardless of sinking that submarine). We also talked about the difference between U.S. and Chinese Universities.
After my plane touched down, I met up with Pat in Insadong (Seoul) and planned to stay in a hostel that night. Met some other travelers - one from Brisbane, one from Belgium, one from Hong Kong, one from Toronto and one of Pat’s friends from Korea. We went to a Korean street BBQ and a neighboring table offered to buy us a bottle of Soju (kind of the Korean equivalent of vodka, but a smaller bottle and
weaker proof). Turns out this guy had been in charge of an organization for Korean Heritage and Culture and wanted to “welcome us to Korea”. It was a pretty sweet deal until he poured Soju in my beer, which then you are supposed to chug (not to disrespect an elder). So it goes.
The next day Pat and I went to Gyeonbuk-Gung - a pretty famous temple in Insadong. Korean temples stick out because of their bright green, blue and red color. The roof corners are a little subtler than a Chinese temple too. The area is quite expansive, containing around 2 dozen temples, some pretty open lawn area, and Korean gardens.
Something I didn’t catch onto to quickly --- no one wears shoes in Korean Temples… wups! Pat calls this the Gaijin Smash (Gaijin means foreigner in Japanese), where one abuses the fact that they are a foreigner for self gain (but in my case I guess I didn’t really abuse it).
Afterwards we strolled down a street market stretch of Insadong, where I was tempted to buy an eternal amount of kitsch. Pat met a Japanese girl who was interested in coming along. I
had trouble communicating with her though because she didn’t speak too much English (and I speak no Japanese… =(… ). Pat studied Japanese at UPS though and has spent some time in Japan, so they were able to speak to each other pretty well.
Then, Pat had to go back to his high school to pick something up. Pat works at Seoul Robot High School, which is a school for some of the less intelligent high schoolers of Seoul (I know right - the less smart kids are still making robots). He showed me around a little bit and I got to see a robot trophy room, which was pretty incredible. Most of the classrooms have two white boards that sandwich a giant touch screen t.v. that’s connected to a computer.
We made it back to Pat’s apartment and then met up with some Korean friends of his in Itaewon (Seoul). The restaurants and bars of Itaewon design an orgy of spastic epileptic-seizure-worthy lights. Its pretty much sensory overload to the max on all accounts- Smells of Korean BBQ, waves of people, bright neon lights, bumping music from one club to the next.
Next morning we
went to what should be a pillar of everyone’s visit to South Korea - Jimjilbang. Jimjilbang is a spa-bath-sauna-restaurant-hairsalon- ice-room-arcade-boardgame-lounge hotel that’s open 24 hours a day. Believe it or not, you can get naked haircuts in this place. It’s absolutely wonderful.
Then after spending all day at Jimjilbang, took off to meet some other friends of Pat in HangDae. It’s a University district in Seoul that’s kind of similar to Itaewon, but not so sensory overload. Lots of bars, restaurants and what have you.
Woke up quite a bit later the next day (heh…) and just wandered around Pat’s neighborhood. Later, Pat and I went down to the Han River (which splits the city in half) under a bridge across from Techno Mart (this huge electronics depot) and reminisced about old times.
Went to Cheongju the next day to visit and stay with Ann. Ann, unlike Pat, works at a Hogwan or a private school. She’s also mostly working with elementary school students. Cheongju is a LOT smaller than Seoul, but still has a couple hundred thousand people. I think its best feature is that its close to Songnisan, perhaps.
When she went
Seoul Robot High School
Ladies and Gentlemen - Pat Owens!!!!
to work the following day I hitched a bus to Songnisan National Park and the weather cleared right up. I started by exploring the bass of the valley where there was a giant golden Buddha, some temples, rocks with Chinese character carvings and a pagoda. Then, I hiked about 18 km, going up to a lower part of the ridgeline first and making my way along the ridge to the summit and back down another trail. It was around 1000 m vertical climb with some dips here and there. When I initially got up to the ridge, I stopped to have a lunch break and some random Koreans just waved me over and we traded a bunch of food but no words. They cracked open a few Cass beers atop the boulder where we sat and the sun shined gloriously across the valleys far and near. Koreans are great. Nature is great. Life is great.
My words can't do the early autumn leaves of Songnisan justice, so you should look at some of the pictures!
Came back to Cheongju for the night and headed out to Seoul the next morning.
Met Pat at Seoul Robot High School
and headed up to North Seoul Tower for dusk. A good lookout place to observe Seoul, but apparently its almost strictly a place for dates. I think Pat and I may have been confused as a gay couple. Went out with a few of his friends for a pretty late dinner and ended up going to Noraebang later (Karaoke).
Came back to China the next day and met a German on the plane who’s living in Nanjing working for Simmins (I think?). We both agreed it would take a while to get used to China again.
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