Sunday, 4 October 2009

First Trip to Seoul - Thursday

Seoul - the place to be in Korea. A modern city, reminiscent of the fast-paced New York.

I was waiting for Chuseok (a Korean ‘Thanksgiving’). It was the one long weekend, where I would be able to go to the one Korean city I had been to when I was just eleven years old…



I had a free-day to myself. The students in Hyeondong School were taking practice tests, so my co-teacher told me to ‘take some time to rest’. Obviously, I did everything but that.

I woke up this morning with a set schedule in mind. I would scrub the house down, wash the sauce-covered dishes, vacuum the spiders away, pack my gear, and finally, take a much needed shower. Little did I know that I would be receiving a call from Ken only three hours after he left for the bus, pushing me to get to Bunam in one hour (he had only found out minutes beforehand). I had to squish all of my chores together…and because Ken left his packsack at home, I had to finish stuffing his bag, too. Suffice to say, I was quite the manic for one long hour. Clothes and toiletries were being thrown in the air… I was washing dishes impressively with one hand and aggressively vacuuming with the other.

Finally finishing everything I had to do, I set out on the bus to Bunam School, where Ken’s ever-so-kind co-worker, Jeff (the Bunam Computer Science teacher), graciously offered us a ride to Andong city. We would be taking the bus from Andong city to the heart of Seoul, and Jeff would guide us throughout our entire journey.


The ride from Bunam to Andong was quite relaxing. Jeff even stopped on the side of the road to buy us a ginormous bag of Cheongsong’s famous apples. I think I embarrassingly nodded off (like I usually do in the back seat of cars) towards the end of the ride, but not before seeing Andong’s city billboard, pasted onto it, a large red apple (I’ve heard Cheongsong’s are way better :)).

Once we arrived in Andong, we entered the bustling downtown terminal. Most people were heading to the countryside (where family tombs are usually located) for Chuseok. It was the perfect opportunity for Ken and I to visit the city that usually raged with a population of 25 million people.


The bus ride to Seoul was a fleeting three-hours. That’s all the time it took to get from one corner of this dynamic jewel of a country to the other. And as we watched the automobiles piling up on the other side of the road, we were cruisin’ towards the one city with more than half of South Korea’s total population of people.

The bright city lights were almost too much for my Andeok-adjusted eyes. Even the bridges entering the great city were lit up with blazing white lights, lining the structures’ cables. As the bus pulled into downtown East Seoul (Dong Seoul) we ended up exiting our bus onto the congested street. The bus wasn’t even able to get into the terminal because it was blocked by outgoing buses and cars. Yes, Chuseok is that big.

The next quick decision that Ken and I had to make was to find out where we were going to stay (we were two little birdies, who hadn’t even thought of where we were going to sleep). Jeff, reflecting perfectly the extremely generous nature of Koreans, wanted to buy us dinner, but after the twentieth time we insisted that he go home to his awaiting family, he left us in the subway station (the infamous but reliable Korean subway system, which has so many lines and stops, they become a blur when looking on a map!).

After much deliberation, we finally settled on City Hall (Shee-Cheong) in the center of downtown Seoul. We didn’t know it at the time, but it would turn out to be the perfect place to locate ourselves. We were at the heart of Seoul.

After the subway (it was so comfortable!), Ken and I ventured out in search of a hotel. We wandered around the downtown streets that almost seemed abandoned as people were scarce. We walked through some sketchy alleyways which were filled with sharply-dressed men in clean-pressed navy and black suits. They all had the same jagged haircut, jagged hair, and it seemed as though they were trying to convince men walking through the street to go into their businessmen’s clubs. Each club entranceway looked like a hotel, so of course, Ken and I got confused and walked right into one. Luckily, we got the opportunity to meet a very nice gentleman, indeed. His name was Tommy, and he was a photographer for that particular gentlemen’s club (I wonder what he photographs). We were about to leave the building, when he generously offered to find us a reasonably-priced hotel (some of the pricier hotels can offer rooms for up to $500!). As we twisted and turned around corners, he finally came to the Alps Hotel. He bargained our room for a fair $40 a night, and he couldn’t have found a better place. The room was clean, the building was quiet, and once again, we were right in the middle of everything Seoul had to offer.

By this time, it was about 9:30pm. Ken and I were hungry. First, we wanted to check out the famous Namdaemun Market, and from what we read, it had everything. The alleys were fairly empty except for a few Koreans and Westerners walking about, and some rainbow-umbrella-d outdoor food stands with lovely bits of exceptional, albeit, unusual meats. Skipping on the adventurous types of meals for our supper (who knows, it could have ruined our weekend…diarrhea, anyone?), Ken bought an appetizer of five sugar-rolled doughnut-twists. While munching on them, we headed out to the main road. We were about to split the last one in the bag, when suddenly an ajumma from a snack stand scurried over to us, and without saying anything, pulled the black plastic bag open, and said, “Never mind, there’s only one left.” She started to walk away with her head down…

Ken and I headed stopped her in her tracks. “Do you want the last one?” we offered. “It’s okay, you can have it.” We opened the bag for her. She took the last doughnut and bowed ever so fiercely, as if we had made her night.

“Oh, thank-you, thank-you!” she exclaimed.

All in a day’s work, I thought, and Ken and I continued our search for our supper.

We looked around for quite a bit, and finally found a small eatery (it looked like a chain restaurant) with a blazing red sign above it. Turns out it was an Australian chain restaurant (specializing in salads) and of course, most of the meals had a Korean twist to them. Ken and I each had a boxed bulgogi (Korean marinated beef) salad with a spicy crimson chili dressing (Ken’s) and a sweet chili dressing (mine). The tangy sour cream mixed in with the sweet chili, over strips of marinated beef and salad was exactly what we were looking for.

Satisfied, but not full, Ken and I decided to get some beer at one of the closer pubs. We both had our share of two litres of Hite beer and happily left for our hotel.

- Jess

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