Sunday, 4 October 2009

First Trip to Seoul - Friday


Our first full day in Seoul, and what did Ken and I do? We slept-in. No alarms, no nothing. With a full night of rest, we were ready at noon to have our breakfast (ok…brunch). Where did we go? Of course, we went to explore the Namdaemun Market! One of the many branches of the market was dedicated to food and small restaurants, so we took a gander. Lots of friendly ajummas gave us widespread smiles (which were a little creepy…), attempting to lure us inside with their bubbly and pushy attitudes. All of their colourful dishes were laid out before us, in a plasticized form, almost undistinguishable from the real ones. Finally, one ajumma was just so cute (she reminded me of a pixie) that we just had to go into her restaurant (plus, we were poking at her plastic food, so we felt sorry). I had my mixed spicy red noodles, and Ken had some soothing homey rice-cake-dumpling soup.

After our brunch, we went out to really explore the Namdaemun Market. There were so many people (in general…hey, we live in Andeok) and so many Westerners … Shops lined and made-up the market’s outdoor walls, and stands of every kind (produce, food, tie, etc.) were filling up the market’s insides. The items for sale, the rainbow-coloured stands, and the many people made for a lot of beautiful, shifting colours. The place was so popular that there were even people walking around in red t-shirts, handing out maps and information pamphlets specifically about the market. We heard that this place was the place to be in order to practice bargaining, and Ken really wanted to give it a try. We walked into a purse store and casually looked around. Suddenly, something caught my eye - the perfect purse. I had spent all day looking for a new purse, and I desperately wanted this one. This one didn’t have any tacky red and green stripes on it like all of the other ones. It hung like a shiny piece of gold ribbon and I felt like a kitten propelled into snatching it. “Excuse me,” I asked the employee, how much for this purse?”

ssa-sheep-pal-man won ($48),” he said.

“Oh,” I sadly replied. I hadn’t planned on spending that much money on a purse, so I was going to let it go…

That’s when Ken stepped in and started bargaining like a natural. Korean numbers were flowing out of his mouth like he had known them his entire life.

Ee-sheep-oh-man won ($25),” he started.

The employee shook his head. “Ssa-sheep-oh-man won ($45).”

Sam-sheep-oh-man won ($35),” Ken challenged.

Sa-sheep-man won ($40),” the employee said.

Sam-sheep-pal-man won ($38),” Ken said, solidly.

That was it. The employee gave up and nodded his head. I don’t think I could’ve ever bargained like that. So that was it. Just like a pro, Ken bargained down the price of a purse I loved, and bought it for me :).

As we walked through the market, we got a call from the Pohang City English Teachers who were visiting Seoul as well. We told them which cross-streets to meet us on, but everyone was lost in communication – that is, until they realized that they were in the Dongdaemun Market and not the Namdaemun Market. They were planning on going to Seoul Tower (as were Ken and I), and we decided to meet them up there in the evening.

Ken and I moseyed through the market and decided to spend some time out of the massive crowds of people. Pushing through the waves, Ken eyed some chocolate rock candy that reminded him of his younger days. We purchased a large bag for 2,000 Won ($2) and sat by the statue in front of city hall. I could see why young kids would love these pieces of chocolaty goodness. The inside of the pastel-coloured, candy-coated rocks were filled with the most buttery chocolate filling you would ever taste in your life. It just didn’t seem to dissolve.

Next, Ken and I decided to call Corey and Illana (both English Teachers in Andong City…and the best people in the world!) to try and convince them to come to Seoul. It was a long shot, but we had to try.

So we called them up and found out they had no plans for Chuseok. No plans?! Ken and I craftily convinced Corey and Illana to get their butts to Seoul for one weekend of mind-numbing fun. They got their bus tickets for tomorrow morning and we couldn’t wait.


After supper, Ken and I went up to Seoul Tower (on the Namsan mountain). We had heard that there was a cable car connecting the bottom of the mountain to the front of the tower. So, we headed straight for it…or so we thought.

On our way to the tower, from our lovely hotel to the top, we walked and asked around as to where the bottom of the cable car could possibly be. We were pointed further up the mountain by several ajushees smoking on the sidewalk. As we continued to ask around, we were given the same directions. Go up. So we kept walking up the winding road, upwards towards the supposed base of the cable car. Turns out we had passed it…by a long shot.

We saw the cable car glide guiltlessly passed us as we were walking, up above our heads, and towards the tower. We cringed. Jeez. Well, we were too tired to head back down and around the mountain, just to ride the cable car half the distance more…

Thank-goodness we got lost. Our only instruction was to head upwards, and after climbing two thousand painful steps, we managed to catch a captivating and exquisite sunset atop the lookout (just below Seoul Tower). It was breathtaking. The gold and shades of yellow, orange, red, and crimson were draping the city, and for a few minutes, Ken and I breathlessly took hundreds of snapshots as the sun melted into the ground. We checked-in with the Pohang teachers from time to time on our cell phones, and managed to make it to the top on time (although a 2000-step stairmaster cycle wasn’t quite planned in our schedule).

We arrived at the top of the mountain early, so we walked up to another lookout at the base of the tower. What an extraordinary sight! There were combination- and key-locks of all kinds pasted with notes, secured all along the wire fence that was guarding the lookout over the city. They were to represent a couple’s security and ‘lock’ on love. Too bad I left my combination-lock in my backpack at the hotel (seriously, I had one in there, unknowing of what was at the base of the Seoul Tower). We watched the very end of the sunset on that lookout and listened to the jazzy urban music coming from the foot of the tower.

Minutes later, the Pohang teachers arrived, and we bought our tickets to go up to the top of the tower. There were the typical touristy stands and shops set up – gift shops, cafes, ice cream parlours, and photo-taking stands (kind of reminded me of Niagara Falls). At the very top of the tower, you could see a 360-degree view of Seoul, and there wasn’t a single unlit spot all around. Seoul was a city on fire with its lamp lights, cars, and many, many skyscrapers. On each glass pane listed a major city and its population. I just had to go in front of the Toronto pane (even though I’m not a native Torontonian) and spend a few moments of silence with my face pressed to it.


For supper, Ken and I ate alone at The Place restaurant, which had a grand view of Seoul below it (so romantic!). They even had a specific time at which they turned off most of their indoor lights so the city lights could pool-in. There, we devoured two gourmet pizzas (one with prosciutto and the other with barbecue chicken). It had been a while since we ate pizza, and I had to control ourselves (for fear of being kicked out) since this was a pretty classy restaurant.

On our way down from the tower, we took the smart approach. We took the cable car. 2000 steps in midnight’s darkness would’ve made any person a little uneasy.

- Jess

1 comment:

  1. christine(jess' mom)9 November 2009 at 19:29

    wow! what a pro bargainer! i never could try it like that:)