As promised, here is a much more brief account of our trip into Seoul last weekend (September 8th). Because I've received a little bit of feedback that my blogs have been too long lately, and because I am pretty fargin' tired right now, I am going to make this one much more quick (maybe) and just fill it full of photos. So, enjoy...
I woke up Saturday morning a little bit (okay, a lot) later than I had hoped to. I know we're here for a year, and I know we have lots of time for cool stuff, but to me, for my sensibilities, I would much rather spend my free Saturday morning seeing more of my amazing surroundings as opposed to recovering from a hang-over I couldn't afford from the night before. Yeah, I'm sure there will some fun nights ahead for me at the bar, but right now, I'm all about getting up early on Saturday to get my ass into Seoul or elsewhere to see as much as I can.
So, we got up much later than we had hoped and got on the bus at 12:30 PM. That's a bit of a problem because at that time of day, the bus is FULL and we are forced to stand in the aisle for a 45 minute bus ride from hell. It's like Star Tours or Body Wars without the Disney touch. Just holding onto a greasy handrail while some sleeping, drooling clown spills out from his seat to lean on you for the duration of the trip. Usually, I wouldn't complain about standing, but when the bus stops and jerks in an extreme way every 30 seconds, you begin to get a bit tired, and more than a bit motion-sick. Steph is usually the one to feel spewish, but even I was feeling it by this point. What really made me bitter was knowing that there was a better way had we only gotten up earlier. Don't worry though - I got over it quick :)
We got dropped-off in Gangnam. though when we got off of the bus, we really had no idea where the hell we were. Thankfully, in Seoul, a subway stop is never really far away. We made it to the subway and after a quick transfer and a few stops, we made it to Deoksu-gung Palace to watch the changing of the guard. It was very cool, if a little bit touristy (but hey - we ARE tourists still) and then we headed across to City Hall just to see what was going on. This was really our first time in a new section of Seoul without a true itinerary. It was actually really exciting to just kind of go with the flow and see whatever we saw on our way to wherever.
We decided to head towards Namdaemun market - a place we remembered from our last trip in, and on our way there we were fortunate enough to spot the South gate to the old city. A huge building from the 14th century, it now stands almost in a traffic circle right across the entrance to Namdaemun market. But I prefer to call it by its more impressive name: "The Gate of Exhalted Decorum". It just sounds more cool.
After checking-out the gate, we headed into Namdaemun where we each bought our first litte trinket. Like a big cheese ball, I opted for the Korean knock-off side and bought an LA Dodgers toque for only 4,000 wan ($4 Canadian) while Steph bought a little shining cherry pin for her sweater. Sadness descended however when we emerged from the market to take pictures of a nearby fountain and Steph lost her little pin.
All was not lost though. After looking for her pin for a few minutes - back-tracking and staring at the ground, we began to walk away. And then I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne, or more accurately, remembered my sister, Sandy's story about looking for her husband's wedding ring at a construction site in the middle of the night. Turns out Jason lost his ring on the job during the day, but armed with flashlights, they headed back to the site at night and Sandy simply knew where to look. She used her divinity to point the light at the precise spot in this huge, dark construction site where the ring was partially covered in dirt.
I know my story is not as cool, but I was inspired by Sandy's story and I just had a feeling of where it was. After we walked away a few feet and asked Steph to hold-up and I walked directly to a metal grate surrounding a newly-planted tree, and there it was - her little cherry pin. Was she a happy girl! I thought it was pretty cool.
Anyway, on from there we took a quick bite to eat at Shinsegae Mall - a ridiculous shopping centre full of high-end brand names and even a Tiffany's boutique on the main level. After that, it was on to Myeong-Dong, perhaps the busiest place I've ever been in my life. It is probably 20 solid blocks of side streets and main streets, all filled with people and predominantly western brand-name clothes. Major League Baseball is huge here and there was an MLB store so full that they had a staff member permanently perched on a ladder by the fitted hat area so that he could deal with the mob of people trying to find their right size. Gong show.
We walked straight to the end and saw a few things worth mentioning:
A holy Christian monument on top of a convenience store and in the same complex as a beer and hard liquor shop...
A few posters for Korean versions of major, recent broadway musicals and plays coming to Seoul in the next while...
And, a huge Catholic church under rennovation. Myeong-Dong Catholic Church is on a hill over-looking the mass consumerism below. There was also a garden with an idol of Mary and a place to light a candle. I decided to light one for my mom. Neither of us are Catholic, but I know my mom would have appreciated it and so I did it. Safe journey to Ma and Pa as they make there way to the East coast of Canada this week.
After our dizzying trip through Myeong-Dong, we headed back towards Sanbon to meet our friends, Ian and Bonnie for dinner and a movie.
It was great to see them - only our second time seeing them since being here - and it was also good to be able to spend some time with them without us being all jet-lagged. We headed to a really nice Vietnamese restaurant where we paid for dinner and a movie ($26 for the two of us) and then we went upstairs for the movie. Tarantino's re-packaged Grindhouse segment: Deathproof was on the menu and though I had already seen it, it was certainly worth seeing again. I'm not entirely sure that the Korean audience really "got" the nods to Grindhouse cinema (grainy film-stock, blurred images, repeating dialogue etc.) but it was great to see one guy stand-up, arms in the air in protest, as the movie came to its surprise sudden ending and the credits rolled. Classic.
What was even more classic that than was the "Love Combo" - a large popcorn, and two drinks for only $6. Not bad at all. Then it was goodbye to our friends, and hello to the subway back home. We actually missed our last bus after chasing after it for about 20 seconds. But after watching Steph sit sadly and forlornly at the bus stop, we decided to cab it afterall. A tiring day - but a memorable one.
This Saturday, we will be heading into Seoul with some of the new teachers and I'm sure there will be lots of photos to show you then too.
Okay, that was a long one too, but if these first entries seem a bit like a chronological journal entry, it's because I want to remember what we did. I'm not keeping a regular journal here. This is a way for me too share my memory, and hopefully hold onto it at the same time. It's also almost therapeutic knowing that someone, somewhere is reading this. A little Korean pick-me-up in the morning. I would promise that one day these entries will be shorter, but that might not happen for a while.