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Published: January 30th 2011
Amusement park near Spencer and Jess' house
Baggage claim at the airport takes forever, but the airport is so streamlined it takes me about 20 steps to get from baggage claim, through customs (which consisted of a glance and stamp and nod) and to the airport bus terminal. There are no trains that run to Spencer and Jessica's neighbourhood (Jamsil area), but a bus runs to Lotte World, an amusement park about a kilometer from their house. The bus is $10 from the airport, reasonable considering it is a 70km ride. After some yelling at me by a bus porter who was trying to ask where I was going and we figured it out, I was on a bus.
Once on the bus, the driver yells something in Korean, and we all put our seatbelts on. I know why as soon as he backs out of the parking space. We're thrust onto the street at breakneck speed, the driver running through the manual gears as if he's in Indy Car.
About 1/2 hour from the airport we get stuck in traffic. The bus is overwhelmingly hot. I've been awake for 24 hours, and the driver has a lead foot which overuses the break
AND the gas. Its dark out, everyone is sweating, the bus is jerking, and breaklights are the only thing we can see. I feel like maybe the plane crashed earlier and now I'm in hell. I don't know what I did to deserve this.
Around 3 hours after I land, I arrive at Lotte World and meet Jess. Poor Jess, she got a call from me at the airport at around 6:30pm. I caught a bus shortly after that. She and I assumed the bus would be at worst, 1 hour 15 minutes. It was a full 2 hours. She was outside at Lotte World, freezing her butt off the entire time the bus was late (although I enjoyed the cool air once I got off the bus, it was only -6!). We made it to a cab and home, finally.
Spencer and Jess took me for some delicious Ducgalbi down the street from their place. Ducgalbi is a traditional (?) dish served in a big frying pan, cooked on the table. Jess was our official stirrer. It was made of (can't remember sauce name) with chicken, cabbage, and a kind of thick, short, rice noodle. The sauce
You know, just a simple paint job for the gate.
was savory and a little spicy, with a nice slow burn. These types of rice noodles are served almost everywhere. When we're 3/4 done our meal, we order cheesy rice to put on top of what's left of the Ducgalbi, its amazing, and what I would think is the Korean version of poutine. mmmmm....
After a couple of Koren beers at home, we get my bed set up in the living room, the standard indoor heated floors are amazing, given that I'm sleeping Korean style, on a mat on the floor! Jess laughs as I tell her its like camping, after she tells me she's concerned for my comfort 😉 Jess, it was totally great, thanks!
The Soul of Seoul
Spencer and I get thorough instructions from Jess on what to do in the time we have. We promptly forget the map at home. I think we might have the same genes for memory, just saying... Jess is pretty fiercely proud of Korea and she's put some thought on our loop today, so I feel bad for losing the map, but I was paying attention enough to remember the loop in my head, and
between Spencer's local knowledge, we should get by.
After a 30 minute ride on the cleanest subway ever (about $2, with a 50 cent deposit for the subway card), we arrive 'downtown' at the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace was originally built in 1395 during the Joseon Dyansty, when the capital city was moved to Seoul. The palace was destroyed by the Japanese in 1592 and rebuilt in 1868, and finished in 1990.
The palace is mostly gates and monumental courtyards at the moment, with a smaller living area at the Northern end. At the far Northern end is the 'Blue House', the Seoul presidential palace, framed by a large, snow capped mountain in the background.
The main gates and the central 'throne' area is covered with extremely intricate painting, too much detail to take in at a glance. One has to stare at each peice of the building individually to be able to take in the detail.
Spencer and I started out at about 10am, with a plan to meet Jess and her colleagues for lunch, so the staring at the details never happened. After 5 minutes of touring the temple, we're met with three smiling
Koreans, one with a camera taking a video. The boy and girl introduce themselves and explain that the third is their English teacher. I assume they're filming so they can go over the play-by-play later. The boy was extremely shy, and while Spence carried on a conversation with the girl (at one point she asks 'What is your favorite?' ... a very open ended question... he said 'Jess, my fiancée' awwwwww....) I tried to speak to the boy, who wasn't wearing a jacket and looked cold. I couldn't really get much out of him, though. Not a very good play-by-play to watch afterwards. They presented us with a gift of postcards. Once we finished with them and walked about 1/2 way through the palace, we found ourselves travelling via 'light jog' over icy terrain, back through the palace towards the Western gate. We met Jess near the gate and we did more light jogging across the street to the restaurant. Lunch is a similar setup as dinner last night, with some additional deep-fried seaweed between bowls of rice topped with amazing food cooked on the table (see photo).
From lunch, we head down to the Insadong market.
I'm told this is an older, more touristy market. First we stop off at a 7/11 and pick up some cans of hot coffee. Odd, yes. There is a shelf-y thing with cans that you expect would be cool. It is hot. With pop-cans of coffee (see picture).
Insadong is medium-busy. We start out at the top of the market and walk downhill in the sunshine. As soon as we start out we're stopped by some friendly people promoting.. something.. with fresh hot tea and rice cookies. The cookies are light, crunchy and stick to your teeth, kind of like deep fried puffed rice cookies with honey. They love that we're foreign and insist on taking a photo with us.
We carry on about 1/2 way down the market until we come on an actual Starbucks. Its freezing outside so we go inside to warm up. Its three stories tall, so we head to the top to sit near the windows. Starbucks in Korea is $4 for a medium cup of coffee! Good coffee though.
Down the street we're met with another friendly group of people promoting...something...more pictures and our very own Polaroid to take with us.
Andy and Spencer
Naturals at teaching English to shy Koreans
I think maybe we'll be put in some tourist advertising later.
Myeong-dong and Namdaemun Market
After Itaewon, we head across the glassy tower district of downtown, past an amazing man-made stream which cuts through the city. The stream is a calm haven for people venturing down to it and is filled with small rapids and falls, with stones to hop your way across.
The Myeong-dong and Namdaemun Markets are filled with stalls selling just about anything and everything. Myeong-dong (if i remember correctly) had almost every store you could want in a North American mall, plus a few extras, including the Japanese version of H&M. I needed a light cardigan, but when we went in to see how much they were, its was about 80,000 Won, or $80USD, so I don't get one.
We headed to Namdaemun and wandered around. Spence had marching orders for alcohol, and you can get it cheap in Namdaemun, so we hit up a couple of underground markets, which consist of tightly packed stalls in building basements that seem to go on forever and sell everything under the sun. We find some liquor stalls and pick some up for later for
We met Jess and a colleague in Itaewan, a couple of subway stops away. Spencer's friend is leaving for Australia so we head to a party for him after dinner. They decide to head to a bar at the top of a hill, we walk past a bunch of 'Karaoke' establishments...that offer 'private' Karaoke, among other things. Lots of Korean ladies sitting in windows. Enough said.
The bar is owned by expats, and there is a stage and instruments. Spencer's friends break out into an inpromptu concert which is amazing. Jess and her friends challenge me to a game of darts and we all drink $2 beers all night. Jess joins in at one point in the music and plays along on the piano. She's really skilled and makes it up as she goes along!
After the bar we head to a main street where a few people pick up Egyptian sandwitches cooked in a small tent by a real live Egyptian. Its assorted onions, meat and sauce in a baguette bun. Looks good, but I didn't feel like eating at this point in the night. The jet lag was catching up to
me. And it was freezing!
Seoul > Hanoi
Spencer and I spent the morning relaxing at his place, after I packed we went for lunch, which included delicious bbq pork, cooked at the table by our delightful waitress, who forgot how to smile. The meal was amazing, with Spencer's favorite soup, again served in a cast-iron pot, boiling hot, at the table, and no less than 7 different salads. Koreans loooooove SALAD!
After lunch we took a cab to COEX mall, which I gather is a large exhibition space, mall, wedding facilities, etc. etc. They also have a 'City Airport' building, where I was able to check in to my flight, including dropping off my luggage. A great service, as we were still pretty much in the city. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the mall before I caught my bus from COEX to Incheon. The traffic was terrible through the downtown, but once we left Seoul behind, the traffic was moving well.
There is a huge amount of development just outside of the city. Between Seoul and Incheon (which is an island just outside of the city) there is a previously undeveloped area
going through a complete overhaul. I read on some signs that it is the Incheon Free Business Area (or something of the sort). Off in the distance are some amazing, large towers that I have seen featured on civil engineering websites. Too bad they're not closer. Anyways I saw no less than 10 large bridges over the Han river (or a flood plane of the Han river) in the middle of being built, including a new large highway. The development area was about 30km long, it was huge!
Seoul Incheon International Airport
Incheon airport has been rated the best in the world for the last 7? years. The airport consists of several extremely large, airy concourse spaces. It is very large. With amenities such as 'Traditional Korean Cultural Experience' and relaxation areas, I can see why this is such a good airport. However, it's still an airport.
How did these people get to bring so much carry on!?
It seems the Vietnamese people enjoy bringing all of their luggage as carry on. I didn't research how much carry on one person is entitled to, but the flight attendants struggle to put all of it in the
overhead bins (as it is too big for under the seat). Most. Carry-on. Ever.
Now there is a lady talking while standing at the seat behind me, and gestruting with her hands. Unfortunately her hands are pretty much touching the back of my head. Hopefully she doesn't feel like talking during the flight as having my hair stroked isn't the best feeling in the world (well, at least by a random lady behind me on the plane). Oh, now she's using my seat to lower herself. Quite a bumpy ride for me.
Like, what's with all the carry on? Now more than one person feels the need to stand up and look at what they've put in the overhead bin, and rearrange... I don't know why. Oh, and the homemeade boxes include cardboard held together with tape, makes it easier to carry, I guess.
The meal is once again pretty good, although bean curd with Asian style sauce is not the best thing on earth.
I've decided that flights to countries with an official language other than Cantonese, Japanese or English will result in cabin crew repeating themselves no less than 5 different times in Korean,
Lion chasing after monkeys?
Japanese, Cantonese, Vietnamese and finally, broken English.
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