It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve finally received an internet connection that will allow me to upload a bunch of these videos relatively quickly so here they are.
A brief look into what I saw and heard.
I landed in LA on 14th of April and got back to Austin TX on the 19th after spending a few days in LA and San Francisco.
I remember walking outside Dublin International Airport and thinking, “How the hell do I get to my hostel?” At that moment, Dublin felt like the largest place in the world.
Some people may ask what have I learned or if I found what I was looking for. I can’t summarize 11 months (475200 minutes!) into a single minute (you know how people switch off after the first minute). You would have to pour through all my entries to read about my thoughts. Yes, I went out to learn about other countries and cultures and yes, maybe a smidge of soul searching, as cliché as that sounds. But those weren’t the main reasons that sent me off for 11 months. I went out to flood myself with new experiences. This trip was at the top of my bucket list and I did it and I’m happy about that. I still have many places I’d like to go so I’ll definitely be doing more traveling down the road but probably nothing as extensive.
Anyway, it’s been a fun ride. I want to thank everyone for following me. I am going to post some videos on this blog in the next few weeks. Pictures are one thing but I thought I’d throw in a few sounds from my trip.
edit : No videos because Timewarner upload speeds are atrocious. Maybe one day…
I had to spend 3 more days in Seoul before flying back home to the USA. I made my way back to the guesthouse which I stayed at previously here and found the same roommates, whom I saw more than a week ago, still there.
That evening, our guesthouse had a free dinner so several people staying there showed up to eat and drink. Some people boozed pretty heavily only Korean soju, beer, and “makolli” (a Korean rice wine). A Danish guy then brought out his stash of several different hard liquors which he brought all the way from Denmark, each one bearing a 40% alcohol rating. Needless to say, whoever took a few shots from that ended up pretty drunk soon after.
The next morning, I missed the DMZ tour. (My story on this a few entries below.) That afternoon, I was about to head out to the Biwon Secret Garden to relax, read, and take my mind off my mistake when I got invited to go visit a park somewhere in Seoul with several people. We took a car and drove about an hour north of Seoul where we visited an observatory where we could see North Korea. I guess all was not lost when I missed the DMZ tour. After that, we visited Heyri Art Valley, a place where all the buildings in it had unique architecture but had a creepy air about it. My friend Alex, whom I met on an African safari, cooked me dinner that night.
(What a North Korean classroom would look like.)
(What a North Korean’s home would look like.)
The next day, I decided to hang out with my dorm mates (Yuki, Sophie, and Yasmine). We bought some “gim bap” and sushi and headed out the Yeuido Park to picnic under cherry blossoms. After that, I accompanied Yuki to Heyri as he’s an architecture student and Heyri was a great spot for architecture buffs. At night, Yuki and I went to go meet up with my friend Josh for one last Korean dinner.
(Yasmine, Sophie, Yuki.)
(Chicken bbq dinner.)
All of us had to pack that night because we would leave for the airport at the same time the next day since our flights were almost the same time.
(Waiting for my last Seoul subway ride.)
Jeonju, South Korea
April 9th – 10th 2011
Another comfortable 3 hours bus-ride took me from Busan to Jeonju. Jeonju is considered
I’ve read about people staying at night in a “jjimjilbang” (Korean saunas) so I wanted to experience it for myself. My guidebook recommended one of the oldest in Jeonju, a place called “Myeong Dong Sauna”. Upon arriving at the bus station, I took a short taxi ride to it. It wasn’t a fancy spa like the one in Busan, just an old building next to a Korean restaurant. I walked in and asked if I could stay the night. The lady in front couldn’t speak English so she picked up the phone and called someone. A few minutes later, a man showed up and he spoke pretty fluent English (!) and told me I could stay there and I could even go in/out at will (it’s not encouraged but since I’m a foreign traveler, they made an exception due to their Korean hospitality). One night for 5000 Won? You can’t do better than that.
“Joe” (or was it “Cho”?) was really friendly and accommodating, showing me around the place. Like any sauna/spa, there were lockers for shoes, then a separate area with lockers for personal belongings. My large backpack wouldn’t fit in there so they stored it in the office. Men walked in and out the shower/bath areas nude. The space upstairs was the common area with a large-screen TV and separate rooms for men and women, as well as a room where both men and women can sleep on the floors together.
It was 4:30 pm and I wasn’t ready to shower and sleep yet so I took a walk to see the Hanok Village, which was a popular spot with the tourists. It was about 15 minutes on foot and I had to get some directional help from people but it was straightforward enough. I visited several sites in the area, among them the “Gyeongijeon”, a “park like shrine area full of ornate buildings and beautiful trees” (per Rough Guide). The whole area was filled with Korean hanoks (traditional houses) so it added to the atmosphere. I visited a house producing “hanji” (traditional Korean paper) using the old traditional methods which looked rather repetitive and painstaking but a unique sight nonetheless.
(A view of the Hanok village.)
For dinner, I had Jeonju bibimbap which is supposedly different from regular bibimbap. I went to one of the more popular restaurants that served it. The presentation was different and some of the ingredients they added were unique but after you mix everything together, it doesn’t taste any different from the regular version. I’ve heard that only Korean taste-buds can discern the difference because they are subtle. I wasn’t completely blown away by it, especially for 10000 Won.
That night, I took a hot soak and showered, part of the perks staying in a sauna. Then I donned the provided grey t-shirt and orange shorts and walked upstairs to the common room, picked up a soft mat and small pillow, found a spot on the floor, read, and went to sleep. I woke up a few hours later and found more people lying all around me.
(Common room in jjimjilbang.)
The next day, I decided to pay another visit to the Hanok village to walk around some more as well as sample some other foods and snacks in the area, ranging from walnut cake (10 pieces, hot and sweet) to “seaweed galbitang” (seaweed and beef-ribs soup). I brought my book, found a quiet spot, enjoyed a bottle of “Mozu” (low-alcohol Jeonju rice wine), and read while occasionally lifting my head up to people-watch. For dinner, I had some “Kongnamul gukbap”, another Jeonju favorite, a bean-sprout filled broth with rice. A bit bland but cheap.
I spent another night at the sauna and left the next morning back to Seoul.
It went so horribly wrong.
I returned to Seoul with one mission in mind : The DMZ tour. I signed up for it, paid $80 in advance for it, and all I had to do was show up.
After a night of drinking with hostel mates, I shook off my slight hangover, woke up early, wrote some directions down on a scrap of paper on how to reach Camp Kim USO, got to the correct subway stop, then exited and this is where it went all wrong.
I was under the impression that like most numbered exits in subway stations, there would only be one direction leading out. This station’s exit presented me with an intersection. I didn’t know which one to take. I only had 15 minutes to make the meeting point or the bus would leave without me. I had to find “Holly’s Coffee”, which was about 2-3 minutes walk, hook a right, walk straight another 3-4 mins and I’ll be at Camp Kim.
So I picked “LEFT”. I had asked several people around me where “Holly’s Coffee” was but they all couldn’t speak English and didn’t know what I was saying. So I walked, found a traffic cop, told him where I wanted to go, then he told me to continue going for 5 minutes and I would be there. WRONG. I didn’t see “Holly’s Coffee” nor Camp Kim USO, just bare deserted road and empty buildings. At that point, I SHOULD have retraced my steps, ran all the way back to the station and see where “RIGHT” took me.
Instead, I saw a taxi at the side of the road with a sleeping driver. I woke him up, then beckoned him to drive me. He didn’t know where he was going, just following any directions I gave him. As time was running out, I took him down the road and instead of going back to the station, I told him to take yet another wrong turn. Worst decision ever.
We ended up going for a few minutes and Holly’s Coffee was nowhere. It was 7:30 am. The bus would be leaving now. My heart sank. I stopped the taxi, paid my fare, ran to the nearest PC cafe, frantically got on the net, found the GRAPHIC MAP and PHONE NUMBER, begged several ppl around me to let me use their cell-phones (at which the PC cafe owner let me use her cell-phone when she saw how desperate I was), called the tour company up. It was 7:40 am. They said the bus had left. I was too late. I pleaded but there was nothing I could do.
So feeling crushed, I walked outside, hailed the nearest taxi, asked the driver if he knew where Camp Kim USO was, and he DID. Why didn’t I have this taxi driver before? I would’ve been on that bus to the DMZ already. The guy spoke English, was real nice, took me there without a hitch. When I saw where I made the wrong turn and how close I was, I felt so sick.
I went into the tour company office, pleaded my case again, but to no avail. The bus was riding a highway, there was no way it would stop for me when it had 80 other passengers on it. The tour ladies felt sorry for me and I had hoped to get some sort of partial refund. No deal. It was all my fault and I admitted it. Sure, they gave some shit directions but if I had looked at the GRAPHIC MAP they sent, I would’ve been home free.
The only “consolation” I got was that I paid my tour fee AGAIN but in USD. While in Busan, I had no choice but to pay my tour fee with a credit card over the phone. With a CC, they would charge me in Korean Won; 92400 Won to be exact, which was $85. If I paid in USD, it would be $77. So in the end, I saved $8 but at the cost of my tour, the cost of taxi fees and PC cafe fee, $8. And most of all, the chance to see the DMZ. I leave Korea in two days, no chance to getting another tour anytime soon unless I return to Korea again one day.
The walk back to the subway station was the longest 5 minutes in my life. I couldn’t believe how close I was, yet so far. If I had went “RIGHT”, I would’ve seen Holly’s Coffee almost immediately. Why did I choose “LEFT”? Was there some sort of lesson I should be learning here, maybe about how ill-prepared I was, or how I didn’t think logically enough when I first encountered directional problems? There were THREE PC cafes right in front of the subway station. If I had been feeling lost the moment I stepped out, I could’ve walked into any one of them, got the map, verified my bearings, then made my way there with 10 minutes to spare. It was as if every single decision-making bone in me FAILED at the moment I needed it most. I pride myself on good decision making and this moment was so low. There were 80 ppl who went on that tour, and I was the only one to miss it.
I got back to my hostel, decided to catch up on sleep. My dorm-mate had drunk too much last night and apparently threw up all over her wall and bed. The room smelled of vomit. But I felt too crushed to care as I wrapped myself up in my blanket and tried to dream of taking “RIGHT” turns, literally and figuratively.
Busan, South Korea
April 7th – 8th 2011
Another 3 hours bus-ride brought me from Andong to the 2nd most populated city, Busan. It’s best known for its beach (Haeundae Beach) and the Jagalchi fish market.
Not much happened on the 7th. I arrived late so all I could muster up in the cloudy, wet weather was to check into my hostel, then take a walk at night to check out the “Golden Gate Bridge” of Korea at a nearby beach, which was supposedly lit up very pretty at night to go with the lit up coastline. Spent a lot of the night catching up on my entries on Korea.
The next morning, I woke up early to visit the fish market, hoping to catch the locals unloading fish from the ships but arriving at 7:30 am isn’t going to cut it for that purpose. It was another wet cloudy day and my trusted (but already semi-broken) travel umbrella was fighting the strong gusts of wind. At the rather large fish market complex, I walked around and saw so many varieties of seafood that I’ve never seen before. I can’t list any here since I don’t know their names so please check out the pictures. It was an interesting place and although I was saving my fish market enthusiasm for Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, this was a fine substitute. I went upstairs where all they served fresh seafood. I had originally pictured a place where all the local fisherfolk to be eating seafood for breakfast but the area upstairs was empty and the patrons lit up when they saw a potential customer and the prices were quite high (ranging from 20000-50000 Won) so instead, I left and stumbled upon a local joint nearby which served simple rice and broth at 3500 Won.
(Seafood heaven. Just follow the light.)
(There were a lot of these red-shelled mollusks around.)
(I call these “sea roaches” because they have feelers.)
(For lack of a better name, “sea-penises”.)
(Terror from the seas.)
(Working together to clean the catch.)
(A long morning deserves a nice nap…)
(… or a good meal.)
A subway ride, a short walk, and another short bus-ride uphill brought me to Beomeosa Temple. There were colorful lanterns lining up the paths and the temple complex. A bunch of Buddhists were praying inside the temples and there were several monks about, wearing their grey robes. The architecture itself was what I expected from most Korean temples so it wasn’t mind-blowing but it gave a peaceful feeling.
(Stairway to heaven?)
That afternoon saw me make my way to a Korean oncheon (hot spring spa). The Hurshimchung Spa in Busan is considered the largest indoor spa in Asia. I’ve never been to a Korean spa before so why not now. After getting off the subway, I walked about 15 minutes amongst beautiful sakura-lined streets before arriving at a nice looking building where the spa was located. I paid 8000 Won, put my shoes and bag into appropriate lockers and didn’t know what to do. The place is segregated by gender so I was around a lot of nude Asian men. No one wears bathing suits around here and it would be silly to do so. I never brought one anyway so I stripped and walked around and as long as you don’t make extended eye contact with anyone (or walk right into them), you’re fine. The spa was indeed a very nice-looking place although its architecture lacked the old beauty that was present in the Gellert baths in Budapest (old Euro spa with lots of history vs new Asian, it’s expected). I sampled each of the different pools available, each at different temperatures, going so far as to sit in a pool that was filled with (and I’m not kidding) bright neon-yellow looking water that looked a lot like piss (holding the water in my hand, it looked transparent, so it may be the tiles or lighting playing tricks on me). I see guys just sitting around in the nude, soaking up the heat, and some were lying face up in their beach chairs, taking long naps. Oncheons are popular places to get away from it all. This was a higher-end spa and I don’t think they allowed people to sleep overnight, unlike most other oncheons in South Korea (which you’ll read about in my next entry on Jeonju). So after 2 hours of soaking and napping, I took a shower, got dressed, and left.
By the way, no pictures. (!!)
Haeundae Beach was like any other beach. Most Koreans consider this THE summer beach spot but at this time of the year, no one was in their swimsuits. It was sunny but very chilly and I could only spend an hour sitting around before it got to me. It was a good spot to people-watch.
When the girl working at my hostel told me that Busan was home to the biggest department store in the WORLD, I had to make my way to Shinsagae to see it so I could brag to all my lady friends about it. The only thing I bought there was some octopus bibimbap (which was dreadfully bland) in their impressive food court but the floors and stores upstairs were another matter. So many shops, most high-end. Did I mention I have store burn-out? With so many stores, I made my way briskly to the top before going back down and leaving. A shoppaholic with a massive wallet (or more appropriately, purse) would’ve been in heaven.
Andong, South Korea
April 5th – 6th 2011
One of the things I was recommended to do while in South Korea was to visit a traditional folk village so I thought, why not visit one of the best, Hahoe Folk Village near Andong, about 2 hours bus-ride from Gyeongju.
I arrived in Andong bus station but was a bit lost because it wasn’t located where I thought it was on the map. I later found out this was the new station and my 2008 guidebook map was outdated. So I took a taxi into town (7000 Won, I later round out there’s a bus stop outside the bus station that could’ve taken me into town, those run at 1200 Won a ride which is standard no matter the distance traveled, just make sure you have small change.) I went to find a “yeoinsuk” which is a cheap guesthouse where we slept on the floor with a blanket and usually a shared bathroom. I figured it was time to return to my backpacking roots after my splurge in Gyeongju. This run at around 12000 Won/night. I was looking around when an old man invited me to check out his guesthouse, as the one I checked out previously was full (and really crap looking). Sure enough, he showed me a room where I had to sleep on the floor (adjustable heater pad underneath!) and it had its own bathroom (toilet, sink, working hot water) and even a small TV (with many channels). He wanted 20000 Won/night but I told him I would stay two nights and I got the price down to 15000 Won/night. Good deal. I had to get out of there soon because I had to catch a bus to Hahoe that same morning. (Not many buses run to Hahoe so if you miss one, you would have to wait another hour or two for the next one.)
There are no restaurants within the folk village itself so I had to go eat at some place just outside near where the bus dropped us off. Some Korean girl named Eun Ji from the same bus who’s also visiting Hahoe asked me if I wanted to eat lunch with her so I said why not. We ordered what she said was an Andong specialty, some chicken and vegetable dish with transparent noodles. Luckily there were two people because the price and portion was fit for three. (Did she know this? Was I being used?! But a foodie should never question, just eat.)
(Andong special chicken dish.)
We checked out the Hahoe Mask Exhibit first because it was right next to the place we ate. It was cool to see all kinds of masks worn all over the world. I thought it would’ve been cool to collect these personally but that was before I found out how most masks worn in plays/dances all over the world were ghoulish and monstrous. Only the Spanish Carnival masks were mysterious and sexy. The rest were more fit for Halloween.
(Some masks. These were tame compared to the monsters upstairs.)
Hahoe Folk Village was brilliant. It’s old and traditional and meant to be kept that way by the villagers living there, all 200 or so of them. Farming’s a way of life out there but at this time of the year, the ground was mostly bare. Most homes, called “hanoks” were heated by a fire lit under them. It’s too bad we couldn’t enter them to see what they were like inside. But the countryside was plenty peaceful and walking around was nice. We found a tree which had so many pieces of paper wrapped on it which apparently contained wishes of people who came to see it. I wrote something down and so did Eun Ji. I later read that we had to actually walk around the tree three times first before writing our wishes but oh well.
(A walk through the quiet village streets.)
(Inside the compound of a home.)
(How they warmed their hanoks.)
(The old tree with white paper leaves.)
Later, we came upon a playground which had a traditional swing, see-saw, and other things. People didn’t sit on see-saws. One person would have to stand one on end, the other person on the other end, then each took turn jumping to bounce the other person on their end. Not easy. The river there was dry and no boats ran to the other side where there was a cool looking residence on the riverside. All in all, a good look inside what life looked like in Korea many hundreds of years ago.
(You have to stand. They’re too close to the ground.)
(What they prepared for Queen Elizabeth when she visited Hahoe.)
The next day, I went to visit the a Confucian temple called “Dosan Seowon” which was started by the guy on the 1000 Won note. His nickname was “Toegye”. I read that he was a scholar and good guy who fought against corruption back in the day. The academy itself was very quiet and empty save for the occasional visitor. Every writing was in Chinese.
(Dosan Seowon compound.)
(Government exams were given here.)
One of my favorite foods in Andong was another specialty; salted mackerel. There are several restaurants selling it (fish + rice + banchan) so I had it for two dinners. Another day, I also had some good noodles at a noodle shop. It’s called “kal guk su”. There were no pictures to point out nor did I know what they sold or the prices but luckily, one of the servers said “kal guk su” and I immediately recognized the name from my L.A. days and I gave the affirmative.
(Kal guk su.)
Off to Busan next.
Gyeongju, South Korea
April 3rd – 4th 2011
So the next stop for me in South Korea was Gyeongju, former capital of the Silla dynasty. I read that the city is famous for its style of tombs, literally a giant mound/small hill, and I had to see it for myself.
I arrived after a 3.5 hour bus-ride from Seoul. It was chilly, getting late, and I didn’t have accomodation so I walked around the bus-station area which had many motels and their bright neon signs. They were quite pricey (averaging 50000 Won/night) but I happened upon one which had a nice lady who agreed to lower the asking price of 40000 Won/night to 30000/night. It’s still high-end (by my standards, it’s about right for Korean motel standards) and I don’t usually pay this much for accomodation but I figured, it’s 2 nights. I had read that there was a hostel in the area but the reviews made it sound like the dirtiest place on earth and I would’ve had to pay 20000 Won for a dorm bed/shared bathroom/nothing else so why not 10000 Won more for a really nice room all to myself along with a bunch of fancy amenities.
(Motels and neon signs.)
(Gyeongju locals eating dinner.)
Had bibimbap for dinner (no need for point-and-pick method, just straight up saw a picture, walked in, asked for “bi bim bap” thanks to my recognition of it). I then happened upon a wonderful thing called “Gyeongju bread” which is basically red-bean paste-filled pastries. There were two kinds. I bought a box of one kind that night, and another box of the second kind the next day. They were both great and I even got to see the motherload of motherloads of red-bean paste as they were making the bread. (My family knows this is a big deal to me.)
(No idea what this is called…I did the Point-and-Pick.)
(The 1st kind of Gyeongju bread.)
(The 2nd kind.)
(The motherload of red-bean paste. Mouth-watering…)
I signed up for a city tour that would take me around to all the major Gyeongju city sights. The Bulguksa Temple and hill-tombs were the major attractions although we went to check out several smaller attractions including the world’s smallest (and most worthless) observatory. As all the hill-tombs are closed up, there was one which was opened to allow people to see what it looks like inside. If I didn’t know they were tombs that held royal Silla kings, I would’ve mistaken them for regular hills. But it was cool to see how it was constructed deep inside.
(Front of Bulguksa Temple.)
(A hill-tomb, the only one in Gyeongju where ppl can enter.)
(Cheomseongdae Observatory, oldest in Far East, built 634 AD. No Hubble telescope then.)
Off to Andong next.
March 31st – April 2nd 2011
The entry many Korean fan boys and girls have been waiting for…come on ppl, South Korea’s more than just Seoul. ;)
So the flight from Hanoi to Incheon took a good 3 hours. From Incheon (which is a city just outside of Seoul), I took a limo-bus into Seoul. I had booked a cheap hostel that was situated near Hongdae (did not realize it at the time of booking) which I later found out was the night-life central part of Seoul, as well as situated one subway stop from Josh, my friend.
South Korea is cold. Spring just began. The trees are bare, the grass is brown. But flowers are beginning to bloom. Nights are bone-chilling. All I have is my 100-rated fleece and whatever layers of shirts I have. Seoul itself is bustling, full of people. The area which I’m staying at, near Hongdae, is filled with young people, mostly university students. There are a couple of universities located around Seoul and all the students love hanging around here, especially at night. That’s EVERY night, not just Friday/Saturdays although those nights get even busier. More on night life later.
I met up with Josh that same evening I arrived. We had dinner of “galbi”, basically Korean bbq. They don’t have Sprite here but they have their own version, which is called “DK” and the Koreans refer to it as cider but it really tastes like Sprite. We walked around Sinchon (another night-life area, just next to Hongdae) that night, stopping to have a coffee and chat that night.
The next day, I spent visiting the National Museum. Even with museum burn-out, this place was quite impressive, and even free. They had several “National Treasures” on exhibit and I’ve read they rotate these on display seasonally so you never see all of them at once. I had some special tea at the Korean teahouse there while I read my Korea guidebook, trying to plan my next few days. I picked up the Rough Guide at a used book store (What-A-Book in Itaewon) and I even found a copy of GRRM’s “Feast for Crows”, the only one there, and I NEVER EVER find GRRM at used book stores.
It was 3 pm, I was hungry, and I decided to be adventurous and walk into a random restaurant near my hostel. There was a picture of a friendly pig on the sign but everything else was in Hangul (Korean alphabet), even the menu. So I looked at some pictures on the wall and pointed at something that looked like a bowl of soup filled with sausage and meat. What came later scared the hell out of me. The sausage was really filled with mince noodles/pig innards and the “meat” was other “unwanted” parts of the pig. But being a quasi-foodie, I soldiered on and ate everything because hell, I’m paying 7000 Won for it. Lesson learned : Look at the picture CLOSELY next time.
(Good or not good looking?)
I met a Korean girl, Alex, at my Tanzanian safari and she said she wanted to meet up if I was ever in Seoul so we met up for dinner. Josh joined us. She took us to a restaurant she heard of in Hongdae which served traditional Korean food. It seemed like a fancy joint. They served a 9-course meal for 25000 Won and I thought it was killer. Alex said she’d pick up the bill so that was nice of her but on one condition; She’s taking cooking courses and wants to cook for me and I would have to buy groceries and help her make the food. Coming back to the fancy food, true enough, I have never had any of the foods in my life…unique food and experience.
We went to visit Dongdaemun Market that night. It’s located near Dongdaemun Gate (which is one of Korea’s National Treasures). It’s a 24-hour market place which sold everything you can think of. Alex told me that many Korean shopkeepers would come here to buy things cheap to re-sell at their stores elsewhere. We walked past what I thought was a big drain until Alex told me to take a closer look. There were nice lights and a nice walkway located to a small river. Apparently, a former Korean president built the place. Now, couples take romantic walks in this “drain”.
(Fast and Furious taxis.)
(Random street, evening time, Hongdae.)
(A random street in Dongdaemun market.)
(Street food tents. Lots of these around. Great for after drinking.)
The next day, I visited Gyeongbokgung Palace with Josh. Nothing super-extraordinary here, just an old Korean palace which looked very Chinese. Koreans used Chinese writing before Hangul was created so it was everywhere on old signs and walls. I’m coming to the conclusion that all of us orientals originated from the same place, China. After that, we went to walk around Insadong-gil, a popular tourist street filled with all kinds of cool artsy shops and snack joints. A popular one was a Korean traditional court cake called “kkultarae“. I bought a box to sample, not too bad.
(Entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Note the Chinese influence.)
(Changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace.)
(Some place on the Gyeongbokgung Palace compound.)
(Some kind of show on Insadong-gil. Guy on horse in traditional Korean wear. Guy in cap carrying light-saber.)
(Some delicious Korean pastry. Hot, oily, salty, sweet.)
(Silk worm coccoon soup.)
Later that night, we met up with another Alex, another friend from back in the States, who’s a Korean citizen and now doing his service in the Korean army. I hadn’t seen the guy since 2007 or 2008 playing football so it was nice to meet up. We ate “galbi” again, drank plum wine, ate some rice from the Korean version of a “bento” box. We then went to a bar called “Ho Bar 2” (there were many Ho Bars in Seoul) to get some beers. After refusing to pay 20000 Won to enter a club, we went to another one which had Alex’s friend DJ-ing so we stayed a while. But the most fun we had that night, despite the cold, was at a crowded open-space at a concrete park. We saw a bunch of people wearing head-phones and dancing. There was no music blasting so it was funny to see them dancing like in a club in the silence. We later got a hold of some headphones and sure enough, some good tunes were being played by 2 DJs there. They called this the “Silent Disco”. There was also a free-style rap competition where some white guy tried to battle against some Koreans. The Koreans could flow but the white boy tried his best to keep up. I am not much of a rap guy but free-style battles are always fun to watch. Despite not knowing what the hell the Koreans were rapping about (even Alex and Josh couldn’t keep up with the rapid fluency of a native Korean speaker), we threw in a “OH SNAP!” just to make the white boy think he was being dissed.
(Bento box before you shake it violently.)
(And after shaking it…)
(“Topokki.” Found in many places. Spicy!)
(Random street on Hongdae.)
The subways close at 1 am and we were out way past then so there was no way for Alex or Josh to go home until 5:37 am when it opens again. We went to an all-night coffee shop and crashed there for a bit to wait until the subways opened. I am not much of a night-life guy by nature but I found the events that night to be quite refreshing. Maybe the inner partyboy in me stirred. I don’t dance at clubs but I found my groove the whole night, both at the club and “Silent Disco”. I drank some but didn’t feel drunk nor buzzed.
Maybe it’s just Seoul but I have to mention that Koreans dress very well and are very stylish, especially the young adults and lower. I saw some girls wear shorts in the bone-chilling cold. Crazy stuff. Everyone had nice “Korean” hairstyles, much like what you would find in a K-pop or K-drama video. The streets weren’t filled with pretty faces but there were a few lookers here and there. People seem very concious about their looks here. It’s easy to look stylish during winters (fancy jeans/coats/jackets) but wonder what they wear during the hot summers.
That’s it for Part #1. I will leave Seoul to visit other Korean towns and will be back for a few days at the end before flying out to L.A.
*This was written in Andong, South Korea on April 6th 2011 @ 9:15 pm.
I was in Hanoi, debating for days on whether or not:
1. To go to China
2. Skip China, fly to Hong Kong
3. Skip China and Hong Kong, fly to South Korea
4. Skip all of them and fly straight home to the USA (stopping by to visit my friend Tim in LA)
Let me break down each #:
1. Getting a Chinese visa in Hanoi, which would cost $140 + travel agency fees ($30-40 from what I was told) + wait time (4-6 business days). More hassle than it’s worth. China is worth it but I really only want to see the Beijing (Forbidden City and the Great Wall nearby) and Xian (Terracotta warriors, an image I can’t get out of my head since I watched some HK movie when I was a kid…). I originally wanted to see Shanghai but not only do I have temple-burnout and museum-burnout, I also have big-city-burnout. It didn’t seem to have much new and exciting things to offer and I can’t deal with it this trip. And not only that, I would have to spend a lot of time on the train to get from Vietnam to HK to Shanghai to Beijing. China, you’ll have to wait.
2. HK is another “big” city. Food would be the only motivation for me going there and maybe the harbor. The stop (2-3 days tops) is not worth the ticket price ($360 from Hanoi to HK) for a 1.5 hour ride.
3. I wanted to visit some friends in South Korea. Also, the Korean culture, language, and food is quite unique to me. And there’s the DMZ. Should be a breathe of fresh air. Plus, I gotta do some Hyori stalking for my friend Peter. I gotta see if South Korea (in particular, Seoul and it’s “hot” people) is all it’s hyped up to be, so I can report back to my friends/family.
4. But I would be home so soon…there’s time and energy for one last push for adventure.
I tried to come to a single perfect decision but as I’ve learned many times, there is no perfect decision. I will have wished I went to China when I feel bored and fresh back home in the States. But I have to make a decision based on my situation and feelings at that particular time.