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Seoul, Korea – Week 2

Revisiting Olympic Park – Peace Gate

When I lived in Seoul I was part of an inline skating group called OOPS. Now, many might think this name perfectly appropriate especially for first time skaters, but in truth it means Out Of Park Skaters and they never even realised the irony of the name until I kept repeating it every time I fell.

Being part of that group was another reason why my time in Korea was so fantastic. They accepted and made me part of their inner circle without a moments thought or hesitation and I got to experience far more of the Korean culture (especially the drinking part) than I would have without them.

We used to meet every night at the Olympic Peace gate at Mongchongtosong subway stop on the pink line. There was always a sense of peace and relaxation at this park with reflecting ponds and the eternal Olympic flame. Returning to meet up with one of my closest friends from OOPS seemed like the perfect combination. I couldn’t wait to sit under the arch and relax, so leaving early to have some time to contemplate I headed that way. Unfortunately when I exited the subway I discovered a massive event going on, people and security everywhere. Well there goes the contemplation idea. Security was super tight and everything was blocked off, but I managed to find a spot to sit and watch the goings on.

So Young arrived a little late but we recognised each other immediately! It was amazing to see her, and it surprised me again how seeing someone after so long with only minimal contact can still feel like I met them last week. We giggled and talked and laughed and headed off to find some lunch. Behind the Olympic Park area is a back alley section with tons of restaurants and bars, walking through there was like dejavu. I even remembered us all visiting some of the places (my mind sometimes amazes me). We went to one of our regular hang outs from 8yrs ago and had Korean BBQ. Delicious as usual.

So Young and me at Korean BBQ

Then a short walk to Jamsil station area and coffee and cake. Not quite sure how we managed to fit in the massive slice of honey cake, but it was delicious. So Young agreed with Number 1 that I should return to teach… who knows, maybe I will.

Honey Cake

So Young and Honey Cake

We planned to meet for dinner the next night and said farewell. I truly hate saying goodbye.

The Dangers of Korean BBQ

Sunday was a very chill day, I made a big breakfast for everyone and then relaxed most of the day. Later Jamie and I explored some of the neighborhood and then headed off to meet So Young for dinner. We went to the same Sam Geup Sal (Korean BBQ) place we had been to the first night. The owner remembered us and especially Jamie being vegetarian.

We had a great evening and while Jamie practiced Korean with So Young, I ate… and ate… and ate. It was so yummy and even though I was full I thought just one more piece. Also it is very Korean to pass pieces over to friends and you can’t say no, So Young and I were doing this to each other all night. I ate so much my stomach hurt to breathe.

Later Jamie headed home and we headed for cake and coffee. We found a place with a slice of chocolate heaven and sat down to enjoy. About mid way through I had a stabbing pain in my upper right side of my back when I inhaled. It was like someone had punched me and bruised my ribs. So Young and I walked around a bit to see if that would help but finally had to say goodbye. I will miss her tons and hope to see her again before I leave.

I hobbled home and as I got in I collapsed on Jamie’s bed clutching my back and hyperventilating saying “I…. think….. I …. hurt…. my ….back”. She looked really concerned and then said “do you think you have to fart?”. Ummm well I hadn’t thought of that since it was so high up. But yes, in the end it turned out to be severe indigestion… note to self, moderation…moderation!!

Boston Campus Revisited

During my 3yrs in Korea I worked at a hogwan, after school program, called Boston Campus. I came for 11mths and after 3yrs my mom asked if I was ever going to return home, I simply renewed my contract each year and flew home for a month in between to keep my green card active.

Hoping onto the number 5 purple line I headed towards Sangil Dong. After some confusion trying to remember how one of the transfers worked I arrived. Up till now my memory had been pretty good at finding the right exits and such but I had to admit, nothing looked very familiar. I took the exit 4 and then decided it must have been exit 1 so walked above ground till I found it. Still nothing! Finally I called number 1 (my code name for my first taekwondo master) and asked. As I started asking I remembered it might have been the stop before, Godeok. Damn it all to heck, so close and yet so wrong! So back on the train and off to Godeok. This time I remembered the exit and found the school no problem.

I couldn’t believe how much it looked the same after 8yrs, everything was the same, from the art work to the plastic flowers. Janet, the head teacher was still there and she remembered me, so did the art teacher. Janet and I chatted a bit and she told me how bad the economy was and how they don’t pay very much, but if I ever want a job I am welcome back.

Then I went upstairs to find the Principal, we called her the Professor. She wasn’t there but one of the cleaner ladies went to find someone. It was Mr. Lee, he remembered me, but not my name, and he was so happy to see me. He called the Prof and said she was coming. Then we stood for a few minutes with him just smiling, his English is still non existent even after all these years working at an English School.

The Professor arrived a few minutes later and was thrilled to see me, she just stared and me at first and then pointed to a picture of me from a calender that was taken in 2002. “Every now and then I look at it and think of you!”… Awww that’s kind of sweet. She also insisted that I call if I decide to come back and work in Korea.

Afterwards, I walked around the old ‘hood for a bit and explored the shopping center I used to get steamed Mandu in. Finally stopping for a bite of donkas (fried pork cutlet).

Luggage Games
I spent the evening playing luggage tetris on Air Asia, trying to figure out the cheapest and safest way to check my bags. I opted for 40kg checked from Seoul to Bangkok and 15kg checked with 20kg sports going through to Surat Thani.

What’s in a Name

I was meant to meet my good friend, and language exchange, Jinsoo, for lunch. I went to spend some time at Olympic Park without the thousands of people from the week before and was thoroughly enjoying the memories when Jinsoo texted me that he had to go out of town for work. Always, Korean’s work way too hard.

Olympic Park Eternal Flame

I met Jinsoo through my Korean co-teacher, Esther. He was her brother and wanted to have some English practice and since I needed to learn Korean, Esther thought it was a perfect fit. I think he had more work to do than me as his English was fantastic. He taught me to read the symbols of Korean, and now prefer to read it that way than with the western alphabet, he taught me the sounds and the inflections and made it possible for me to pick up a reasonable amount of Korean.

He also gave me my name, Park Da Hi. Park being his last name and Da Hi meaning “big happy, always happy”. When he first told me he wanted to give me that name he said he couldn’t because it was the name of his hamster. And we all know you can’t be named after an animal…. 2 weeks later he arrived to our study session literally beaming!

He proudly announced “I have great news! My hamster is dead!”
I looked at him in confusion and said “why is that a good thing, I am sorry.”
Response, “but that means now you can have the name!”

So, yup you guessed it, I am named after a dead hamster…

Namdaemun Revisited

Wednesday I went to Namdaemun Market again in search of postcards and to see if I truly could find the curio shop I used to frequent all those years ago.

Instead of following my instincts from the subway I looked at the sign and promptly got myself lost. I forgot how truly big Namdaemun was. Eventually I found exit 5, my usual location for exiting the subway and then could orientate myself.

I had a flashback to the past for breakfast. Flat dough fried on a griddle filled with cinnamon and sugar that is hot and melted, truly spectacular.

I kept thinking I was finding my store but there was just something that didn’t feel right about them. Also finding just 5 postcards seemed impossible, only packs of 15. Guess the age of letter writing is going out the door. Then one of the sellers suggested I look down the row and 2 streets over and there was a store that had single cards. I walked down but didn’t get far as low and behold there it was… My Store!!! I couldn’t believe it. I was 100% certain it was the right one. I asked the guy if the store had been there for over 10 yrs and explained how I used to come in almost every week with teachers and even brought my parents here. He wasn’t working back then but he was thankful that I came back. I ended up buying a fan, a pack of postcards that was half the price every other seller had them for, and he also included a little cell phone dangly of a little Korean Drum as “my gift to you”. Yup, this is the place I remember.

On my way out I stopped to pick up a box of yummy delicacies. The maker takes honey that is spun into fine strands like spider webs and then encase some peanuts or almond filling inside them. Absolutely divine. Although when I mailed some home one year, there was an anthrax threat for letters and here came a box to my parents with fine white powder leaking out the one side. Something to remember when boxing them next time.

The honey candy guy – all comedians I am sure

Returning home on the 1hr subway ride home, I felt exceptionally satisfied with myself. 1hr there , 1hr exploring and 1hr back, and all worth it!

I had my favorite spicy chicken pieces and some left over rice for dinner. Think they put extra spice this time, as I lost feeling in lips for about an hour.

Spicy!!!!!

Sisterly Reunion

Today I get to have a reunion with one of my closest friends during my time in Korea. Esther was my co teacher during the first 2 yrs and we became very close. I went to her parents for Korean Thanksgiving one year and spent lots of time with her. I have not spoken or emailed her for almost the full 8yrs. For some reason we just sent messages through Jinsoo, her brother, who uses facebook. Esther tried to use Facebook but never got the hang of it.

I also get to meet her daughter, Christine.

While I waited I grabbed a subway waffle, used to love subway travel just for the food stalls. So yummy and filled with cream like stuff.

We met in the artsy market of Insadong. I used to love coming here just to walk around and look at all the different paintings and paper works and curios.

Lanterns made of Paper

For lunch Esther insisted on buying, I had mandu soup (like chinese dumplings).

Esther had a beef bulgogi broth type thing. So yummy.

We explored Insadong, found the post office and mailed my postcards. Then we took a taxi to Myeongdong as I wanted to show Esther and her daughter the cat cafe. Turns out her daughter loves cats and really wants one, but Esther is nervous as she has never had a cat before. Well, visiting the cafe is great practice.

I looked for Juno, my friend from the last visit and found her hiding in the back of a dark spot on top of a fridge that was keeping her extra warm. She did pop out to say hi though.

There are so many pictures I would be loading them all day. The easiest way to see more is to click on the blog where my flickr photos are. Hope you enjoy them.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye, only after a photo op with the mascot of course.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Korea, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Seoul, Korea – Week 1

1 Oct 2012

Flying United

You would think by now I would be an expert at packing. But add in some dive gear and I am lost… Trying to fit in my fins turned out too much work.

The most important aspect to my packing was my faithful friend, who traveled all year with me in 2011 and never once demanded a mention. Well here he is my faithful African Wild Dog:

The shuttle picked me up at 3.45am for my 6am flight. I wonder why I do flights at these ungodly hour, literally before the butt crack of dawn.

My fabulous, amazing parents allowed me to use air miles to get a flight to Seoul on United Air. I have flown United many times and usually they are ok, not brilliant but ok. Well this flight lived up to all the expectations… of other people who say United is shite! The flight attendants looked miserable and never smiled, only offering water once during a 6hr section of the trip. They even refused to help anyone with their bags. So much for it being a customer service based industry. The lunch they served was almost inedible, it tasted like they had warmed the salad up with the “chicken” dish. They had also run out of choices by the time they got to me and the back half of the plane, and of course the only choice they had was the one I didn’t want.

The entertainment was still the old way with the TV in the center of the aisle every few rows, and about 25 people didn’t have any sound… it was a 12 hr flight! But it felt like longer.

Luckily the passengers were super nice in my area, some of them helped me get my bag up into the overhead as the attendant just glared at us. As I got to my seat, I realised there was a couple behind me with a 8mth old little one, named Hudson. My first thought was “blooming hell, 12 hrs with a screaming child”. But then the mom handed out little pieces of paper attached to ear plugs introducing little Hudson and apologizing for nay crying. You can’t be angry when the parents are considerate.

My seatmate was flying her first international flight and was super nervous. She tried to upgrade, even to first, but they refused to let her since she had already boarded, once again United steps up to the plate. She had booked a window seat and been assured she would get one but instead she had the 2nd seat in from the aisle in the 4 seat section. I had the aisle, and I would have switched but I couldn’t do a 12 hr flight in an inside seat.

She was on her way to visit her husband for their anniversary, he is a soldier at the Yongsan Army base in Seoul. We chatted a lot and I helped her through immigration and customs.

Old Friends

As we came through the doors I saw Jamie, I had not seen her in almost 8yrs. We met on a Korea Tourism trip and had stayed in contact ever since. When I told her I was planning to go to Thailand she said I should visit her in Seoul as she would be returning there to do 2yrs at an international school. Sounded like a plan to me and it meant that I could try meet up with Korean friends and hopefully my taekwondo masters.

It was fantastic seeing Jamie and chatting about everything, both good and bad that had happened in the last few months. The shuttle bus took almost an hour to get to her place and then we hopped in a taxi to go the last 10min rather than lugging my bags… I was already sleep walking as it was. After a shower I felt much better and then we headed out for my first meal of Sam Geup Sal (Korean BBQ with thick bacon like pork), my favorite.

Visa Run

Wednesday turned out to be a public holiday so we couldn’t go to Itaewon (the Foreigner area) till Thursday. We spent Wednesday meeting a friend of Jamie’s to help her with an application essay. I was really jetlagged and tired, but after some Donkas (fried pork cutlet) I felt much better. We also went for coffee and a delicious brownie. I ordered an iced coffee and had to pay 200won for the ice, how funny is that!

Then we walked around Namdaemun market (South Gate Market). One of my favorite places from when I lived here. I was still able to find my way around even after 8yrs…

Thursday morning we got up early to find the Thai Embassy in Itaewon. If Jamie had not been with me I would have been lost for sure!! To find the Thai Embassy you go out exit 3 and walk straight until you see, what I termed, the lego building on your left, then turn right and go downhill till you find the embassy on your right.

I went to pull my number noting about 20 people in front of me. As I pulled number 4 the dinnger dinged and showed 4, well that was quick. Less than 5min later we were out the door and I could pick up the visa in the morning. Turned out I couldn’t get the 90 day visa, as I hoped, as the letter from Lotus Divers was not an original.. dangit. But I have a 60day visa and can do a visa run to the immigration office near where I will be staying.

Time for breakfast at a place called Gecko’s, Jamie, being a veggie, ate all the non meat, I cleaned up the rest. Then a treat for ourselves, a pedicure. Bit more expensive than I would have liked but it was fun. Of course in the subway on the way home a lody rushing for the door stood on my foot and took off half the paint on my left big toe. Dammit!!!!

Meeting Masters

Jamie headed home but I went to meet my 1st Taekwondo Instructor, Master Kim Eun Cheol. I hadn’t seen him in over 8yrs. He had sent me text saying I must go to Jamwon and exit 4. Finding his school again was going to be a miracle, but then again if I can find a curio shop in the middle of Namdaemun market, there was hope. Low and behold I found it. I just walked straight then a left and then there was something about the door across the road that looked right, 3 floors up and woohoo, there was Sindong Taekwondo.

Now, since I had 2 masters during my 3yr stint in Korea, it became easier to describe them as Number 1 and Number 2 when talking to my mom. So for future reference that is how I will write them here.

Number 1 was out of the office when I got there but his assistants, who spoke no English, looked like an honored guest had arrived and scurried around finding me coffee and getting me a chair, it was kind of cute. They called number 1 and he said he was bringing the van and to bring me downstairs. There was much bowing and smiling when they took me to meet him.

I got in the van and it was like we had just seen each other last week. He took me to lunch at a place famous for its beef soup and kimchi, delicious. He showed me pics of his 2 kids and caught me up on all the other masters I had known. He called number 2 who nearly had a heart attack when he tried to give me the phone, as he was terrified of speaking English to me. It was all rather bemusing.

Back at his gym we chatted more and he told me about his second gym he had opened. We planned to get everyone together and meet at the restaurant of one of the masters, Maximus had opened a korean BBQ place and also had a gym. I looked forward to seeing all of them, but wasn’t holding my breath as we all know how busy Koreans can get.

Back at “home” I made Jamie some Pasta Italiano, thanks again to vet Nicola from Italy who taught me the recipe in the jungle of Ecuador. It has been a favorite of all my vegetarian friends.

Visa in my Hot Little Hands

Friday I got an early start and left a note for Jamie. Got to Itaewon and went straight to the embassy. This time I had to wait a whole 2min before it was my turn. What a pretty visa it is, 60days sorted need to make a visa run to Koh Samui at some point to get a 30 day extension.

Then went back to the nail place to have my pedicure fixed, no problem and no charge. The fascinating thing was, that when she switched on the dryer for my toes, there was air blowing. Yesterday there hadn’t been any and I just assumed it was one of those ultra violet type ones… no wonder the pedicure didn’t dry properly.

The Insanity of Myeongdong

Jamie is a bit different to me on the shopping scale. In other words she got the shopping in stores and malls gene while I didn’t, much preferring the open market crowds vs the mall type crowds. She needed to get a few things for winter and so we planned to meet at Myeongdong. I think I have been to this area once, and now I remember why. It was blaring music and signs and lights and people…

Since she was running a little late I went to find a coffee shop, which turned out to be harder than expected. Eventually desperate to get off the insane street I picked a place and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a lemon tea for 5500 won ($5.50). It tasted like hot lemon crystal light with a piece of lemon in it and it looked a rather luminous yellow color. But it was out of the noise and street so I guess that’s what you pay for.

Did You Say Cat Cafe???

Jamie, still recovering from being sick, arrived and looked pretty miserable and sick, but we decided to give shopping a try. As we walked towards H&M I saw a sign for a Cat Cafe… I insisted we go look, Jamie thought it was just some stupid name, but I was certain it was like the ones in Japan I had heard of, where you have a coffee and can sit with a bunch of cats.

It was heaven and the cats were fantastic. Only photos can do it justice:

This little bugger is in time out for peeing on a customers bags and escaping.


Our favorite Juno, who gave Jamie some much needed kitty therapy

After some much needed cat therapy Jamie looked much better and was able to shop all afternoon. Can’t say that I faired very well, but then when we figured out the girls outside the beauty shops were enticing us with free face masks and such I was much better. You don’t have to buy you just have to look. Sounds good to me and I get free stuff… I really have no shame in that department, Jamie felt bad though and bought something in almost every shop.

Stir Fry and a Korean Movie about a Tsunami that wipes out Busan (city in the south).

1 week down another to go. So many things to see and do and friends to meet up with…

 
3 Comments

Posted by on October 23, 2012 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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