The Korean Seoul

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August 8th 2010
Published: August 8th 2010
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I took a Korean ferry from Russia which took about twenty hours. I was to sleep on a mat on the floor since I was traveling really budget. During that time I met a Dutch traveler and some Russians who I met. One of the Russians was a pretty nice guy who gave me lots of food he brought but then they broke out the vodka and of course the rest is history. I woke up with a hangover the next day and another guy told me "Don't drink with Russians!". Fair enough. We arrived around noon and man did the weather punch me in the face when I got off the boat. It was so damn hot but especially humid. I went through customs with my fly open, which they were happy to point out, and then I was in the land of South Korea. From there I ran into Dutch guy again and hung out with him. We were in a port town called Sokcho, on the north eastern part of the country. We got tickets from the local bus station and then were on our way to the capital, Seoul.

Seoul is one of the biggest metropolises there is, home to 10 million people, and insane population density that is eight times more concentrated than New York! The subway here is the third largest in the world, serving about two billion people a year. The city headquarters such companies as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai and is the financial and commercial hub of Korea. Culture and cuisine are all centre stage here as well. The Han river runs right through the town.

I checked into a hostel that Dutch guy suggested and he was heading there too so it made sense. Our first brush with the Seoul metro was impressive it was big and kind of intimidating but I'd quickly get used to it. We arrived in a district named Gwanghwamun, the city's historic downtown. Very nice hostel but man even though it wasn't expensive by Korean standards, it was expensive by MY standards because I'd been to such undeveloped and inexpensive countries for the most part. We asked the hostel staff guy to suggest us a place to eat and he brought us nearby to this local restaurant where we ate Kimchi and hotpot and it was great. Although it wasn't spicy while eating it though, there was a ring of fire that came out of my ass when it had to come out and it messed my stomach up too. Guess I need to get used to eating spicy yet again.

The next day I met Brendan, whom I first encountered in Cambodia while watching the Olympic gold medal hockey game. He'd extended an invitation to me when I arrived in Seoul and I wasn't going to turn it down. Even though it was six months later. Brendan was also from Canada, from Vancouver though and is working for the past two years as an English teacher in this city. We went to his appartment right near the American military base, where I dumped my stuff, and then took a walk through Itaewon, which is best described as an almost exclusive foreigner district although many Koreans here as well. A bit of a seedy place, it first started out to cater to the military forces in the area and then all sorts of nationalities eventually flocked here and set up businesses and such. We had lunch here and then went down to Yongsan district, with a full on electronics market. My camera had sadly died on the way to Korea, don't know if it's cuz I bumped it or maybe it's time just came but my poor TZ3 was toast and I needed something to replace it asap. I figured Korea would be the place to do it although I had trouble finding a decent AND affordable camera to replace it. In the end I got another panasonic model but not nearly as good as my previous one which was a bummer but I'd have to make due. Brendan then had to leave to teach a student and I went up to Namsan which was a hill right in the middle of the city. At the top is N Seoul tower, around that is a gorgeous park that I walked through and headed up until I hit an outdoor observatory giving me a nice shot of the southern town. Unfortunately it was a little smoggy but it gave me the right impression.

I woke up and realized I was in a comfortable appartment and not a hostel, tent or floor so it felt weird. I met up with Brendan, who stays at his girlfriend's appt. most of the time, near the bus terminal and from there we went around and ended up in Gangnam, the financial and economic district as well as full of shopping areas. His gym was there and it was time to "Get into shape and work out!" . And so we did, I gave him some tips and showed him some stuff but it felt nice to be exercising properly again, even though when backpacking one does get lots of exercise it isn't the same. Even though I did many bodyweight exercises to tide me over, that wasn't the same either. We would go again a few days later for an even better session. When we walked out I felt great and we then went to a Korean place to eat Bibimbap, which is a rice dish topped with plenty of veggies and an egg. A healthy choice in an otherwise unhealthy world, especially near Itaewon that caters to foreigners so has mostly western food.

Brendan had a client to teach so I went along with him but explored the area around, which had the Olympic park from the '88 Seoul Olympics which was gorgeous. All the nations flags were waving proudly. After that I met up with him again and we metro'd to this other area (can't remember the name of it) where he had a toast masters meeting so I again explored the area which was really lively in the evening, loads of shops and restaurants and insane amounts of people. I went to an old city wall, which had been renovated, and then enjoyed a walk before yet again meeting up with Brendan and this time many people from his meeting both locals and foreigners, from there we went to a bar for pleasantries. I had Korean soju there for the first time.

The Korean War Memorial was awesome and very interactive which is a make or break when it comes to museums for me. Maybe it's my attention span but I need something I can get into in general. I remember that day being so damn hot and humid, I think it was pushing 40 degrees at least and I was soaked and dripping non stop. Outside the museum were old tanks, planes, impressive monuments and even a battle ship. One monument that was especially interesting was of two brothers hugging each other on the battlefield, one from the North and one from the South. The thing was that when the North pressed into the south many southerners were cut off and either killed or incorporated into the North's army, hence why brothers and cousins would be shooting at each other. On my way in, a younger group of Korean girls asked to be in a photo with them. Unfortunately sweat poured down my face to the point where I was blind but I said what the hell. This type of thing isn't so bad in Seoul usually because locals are so used to seeing foreigners out and about. I had to get cooled off and entered the museum. The focus, as expected, was the Korean civil war and I must admit I learned a great deal of things I'd never even heard about. It was a brutal war with both sides coming to the edge of defeat and victory before settling back at the 38 parallel where there would be a stalemate for the next sixty years to this day. The North had backing from the Chinese and Russians and the South from the UN forces and USA.

Korea is known for it's copious mountain ranges, and although most aren't high, especially in the Seoul region I went to hike up one near the northern part of the city called Mt. Bukhansan. It was a nice hike but it was too damn hot and humid and I regretted not bringing a towel with me. I usually have problems with sweat at the best of times but this was retarded. My pants were soaked through, my shirt came off towards the beginning and I didn't even want to think about my feet. The Koreans of course were fine. I wasn't exactly wearing the right physically active wear and didn't bring enough water. Nevertheless it was all worth it when I made it up, quite quickly, to one of the several peaks because there I got my best view yet of Seoul city and of some more mountains (or hills depending on definition).

I did see quite a bit of Seoul during my time here. Many places like Donghoe which were decent for walking around at night as well as the many parks and hostorical areas around.

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Cleaning The ApptCleaning The Appt
Cleaning The Appt

There was some mold and some roaches...but nothing cleaning solution and bug spray couldn't handle!

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