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Published: August 9th 2007
The flight from Hong Kong's Kai Tak airport to Gimpo international in Seoul turned out to be a breeze, and all the terrifying things I heard about China Airways prior to the flight amounted to nothing in the end. On arrival I made my way to a hostel in downtown Seoul and checked in to commence a memorable week in the capital of South Korea. The city is blessed with great culture, superb food, high quality tailors at very affordable prices, exciting nightlife and incredibly beautiful women. What a combination, and to top it off I met a fantastic group of people at the hostel that made this visit even more enjoyable, in one of my favourite travel destinations. The Koreans are hard working and ambitious, and I quickly noticed they have a very competitive attitude towards the Japanese. There is a lot of history involved because Japan invaded and occupied Korea in the 1930's, leading to an intense rivalry between the two countries. The Koreans, however, turned out to be wonderful hosts for a foreign traveller from Australia.
Winter was closing in, dear reader, and the nights were getting very chilly. However the houses in Seoul are heated from
Crazy antics at a waterfall
Hanging out with local hosts.
underneath the floor so we all walked around the hostel in bare feet, feeling nice and toasty. Apparently this method of heating causes several fires in Korea but it sure feels great. I crewed up with a larrikin Aussie bloke who was teaching English in Seoul, and he took me to all his usual haunts after dark where we had some fun times. There are 60,000 US troops based in and around Seoul, who are facing off with the North Koreans just sixty kilometres north at the demilitarized zone. Although a ceasefire was signed to end hostilities of the brutal Korean war in 1953, there is still no official peace treaty between the north and the south; in fact the two countries are technically still at war. My Aussie mate recommended that I sign up for the DMZ tour being run by an American company, and I'll cover my tour to the DMZ at length in the next journal. In the meantime, despite the precarious military situation we were having a rip roaring time of it in Seoul.
I got cracking on the tailor front and ordered two made to measure suits, a leather jacket and a long leather
coat that I designed. It was so much fun, and everything I purchased cost a fraction of what you expect to pay in Sydney, particularly for the leather. While I waited for the tailors to sew my new clothes I was out and about exploring the city with travel friends. The bus drivers in Seoul are definitely the craziest I've come across, and you'd swear they believe they're driving on a racetrack as opposed to driving in the centre of the city. These guys caned their charges good style, and it was a bit of a worry climbing on board that's for sure! While we were out and about we met up with some American guys and this culminated in one of my more amusing travel tales...
With the benefit of hindsight I've come to realise that you don't know much about the world when you are twenty two years old. These American guys started talking to a Korean about getting a haircut. It seemed to be an animated discussion and next thing I know we're being led down back alleys left and right, and all I kept thinking was that I didn't need a haircut. When I told
the Americans they simply responded with an amused look on their faces. So finally we arrived, and sure enough it was at a hairdressers shop. I told one lady that I was good at the moment with the hair, but she said she would give me a massage and reclined the chair. She was obviously well trained, I began to relax as she started working on my hands and fingers when suddenly she climbed fully on top of me and asked "Would you like special massage?" I was stunned because I know hairdressers at home certainly don't climb on top of their clients, so I immediately looked over to one of the American guys. After making eye contact and seeing the knowing look from my friend I actually felt quite foolish, because the situation was planned from the start and the only person with no idea of what was going on happened to be yours truly! Anyways, I managed to extricate myself from the situation with a polite refusal.
The nightlife was great and my Aussie mate took me out every night. I copped some abuse one night from American GI's who called me this and that, but I
think the girls enjoyed our company because of the fact we weren't GI's ... so it was all for the best! There was lots of slow dancing and hanging out in bars, and one bizarre day saw me hanging out with a gorgeous Korean girl who didn't speak a word of English. Somehow we managed to communicate and still spent hours in each other's company. On one occasion I went to a sauna with a Japanese guy from the hostel, and when we climbed into the spa there was palpable tension directed at him by the Koreans bathing there. It's clear the rivalry runs very deep between the two countries.
I lined up at the US embassy to apply for a visa back to the US, as I planned to hit the ski fields for the winter, but in the first setback of my foreign travels the visa application was rejected by the officials. So that was that, and I came back to the hostel feeling stunned. I had money and time but suddenly my travel plans were all out the window. What was I going to do with my life? But things tend to move quickly on the road, and within a few days I had come up with an alternative travel plan. I was going to head back to Japan instead, because my working holiday visa was valid for up to a year and I had many friends from my time in Tokyo. What an incredible turn of events, as I'd only left the country recently and now I was looking at going back for another year! So I needed to get cracking, and farewelled my Aussie friend before catching the bus down to Pusan in the south, where I could link up with the ferry across to Shimonoseki in Japan. I had a wonderful and memorable visit to South Korea and the mail is, basically all of you should be here now!
If you wish your merit to be known, acknowledge that of other people." Oriental proverb
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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