Today was my first visit to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and it was AWESOME!
Since none of us have phones yet, gathering in the morning proved to be both difficult and humorous. I didn’t know what the plan was, so I had knocked on Rene and Zaaid’s door around 10. Zaaid said we were to meet at the front entrance (which looks like a castle, by the way) at 10:30, so I set out around 10:25 and ran into Shanti and Chris, who I followed to the back entrance. We walked through it and down to the bus stop, when I realized that Zaaid had said to go to the FRONT entrance. Since we couldn’t call them, Shanti and I walked up to the front and found Zaaid, who was looking for me, thinking I didn’t know where to go since I hadn’t shown up at 10:30. We walked back to the bus stop, but Rene was still waiting somewhere in the front, so Zaaid ran to get her. In the meantime, we missed 2 buses since we weren’t all together yet. Finally, we were all together and caught the next bus after 11am. We can’t wait to get phones! 🙂
Taking the bus to Seoul proved to be quick and convenient. It was about 45 minutes there and the bus stop is right in front of GEV. The bus passes by a couple of outlets and then goes along a river for a while. Looking across the river you can see North Korea, which was actually a little creepy since you could see the barbed wire fences and security checkpoints along the river and all the high rises, buildings, and boats on the other side. One of these days I’ll have to hike up the hill at GEV to see the view of North Korea from there. We are only a few miles from the North.
We took the bus to Hapjeong station in Seoul, where Shanti and Chris met up with a friend of theirs and took off for the day, and Tim had plans of his own and took off as well, so I was left with Rene, Zaaid, and Harleen. Zaaid has been in Korea for a while and knew how to get around, which meant he was our tour guide for the rest of the day. 🙂 He took us to Insadong (I think that’s right) via subway, and that was an experience in itself. Again, I have to say that I am constantly amazed by Korean innovation and efficiency. When it comes to moving large crowds of people in an orderly fashion, they know how to do it! Everything is so high-tech here, it really puts the DC metro to shame.
Once we got to Insadong, we were hungry and found a Korean joint to eat at. On my Photos page, you can see a picture of the menu from the restaurant as well as a picture of what we all ordered. We got assorted dumplings to share as an appetizer (though they brought it out AFTER our main dishes) and I got soup that looked very similar to the Vietnamese veggie soup I like so much. However, it tasted nothing like that and though it was pretty good, I don’t think I would order it again. The noodles were so thick and squish and the soup was so large that I barely even finished half of it. It had green onions in it, seaweed (unpleasant surprise), a poached egg (sounds weird? it kind of was…), and sesame seeds. It was interesting.
We walked around Insadong after lunch just to see what there was and to people-watch. Being Saturday, it was crowded everywhere we went and it was difficult to take pictures since someone was always walking in view of what I was trying to capture. At one point, we were called over by 3 very loud guys who were making something that they wanted to show us. It was some kind of sweet, which they made by rolling honey in flour and stretching it long and thin multiple times, then filling it with a mixture of what looked like bird seed (I’m sure it wasn’t) and tying it off at the ends. I took a video of the process and will attempt to post it on my Photos page. It was really cool to watch!
We also stopped by a tea store that was doing a free green tea tasting. Tea is grown in the Jeju islands (off the west coast of South Korea) and while it was quite good, I’m sorry to say that it really doesn’t taste any different from the green tea we get back home.
We decided that we had seen enough of Insadong, so Zaaid took us to Itaewon next. As soon as we were exiting the subway, we could tell that something huge was going on because of the mass of people and blaring music. It was a multicultural festival (you can see the sign for it in Photos) and there were groups from all over the world performing dances. We could barely see anything because there were so many people. Also, along the street for about a mile, it seemed, were tents selling food from different countries. Since Zaaid and Rene are from South Africa, we had to go over and check out the South African tent, but they were only selling hot dogs! (Rene and Zaaid think it was an imitation of a typical South African dish; some kind of sausage) We walked around for quite a while and took pictures of different parts of the parade. Then, Zaaid took us to a pub where all the South Africans in Seoul go to watch rugby games, and they ordered a pitcher of beer (water for me; I still haven’t acquired a taste for beer). We left after that and Zaaid took us to Hongdae.
Hongdae is the hot spot for night life, and being Saturday night, it was super crowded. We were hungry again and found a Korean BBQ restaurant. In Photos, you’ll see a pot of chicken, potatoes, and cabbage, which is what we ordered to share for dinner. The sides, of course, were kimchi and cabbage salad. It was all really delicious and I ate way too much! We were all pretty tired after dinner, so we walked around for a little longer and then headed home. On the way back, we ran into Caleb, who had come into Seoul to buy shoes, then Larry, who was meeting up with a friend, and then on the bus, David. It made me feel like Korea really is my home now; I have friends here, and I’ll see them everywhere I go!
By the way, Rene and I had some good chats and bonded on the bus ride back to GEV. She and Zaaid are really lovely people and I love them already. I feel so blessed to have found such wonderful friends in such a short amount of time!
When I got back to my apartment, I uploaded the pictures I had taken and then called it a night. It’s Sunday morning now, and I don’t really have anything on my to-do list today. I’ll probably continue organizing my stuff and maybe take a walk over to Heyri (the neighborhood next to GEV) and check out the stores there. I’ve got 50,000 won (about $50) to get me through the rest of October, which means I really have to conserve my money only for food until I get my first paycheck. I treated myself to visiting Seoul, but I can’t do that again for a couple of weeks. Going for walks, hanging out with people here, and chatting with friends back home will be the only activities I can afford for a while.
That being said, I’m going to get dressed and find something to do. I’ll allow myself to be a little lazy since it’s back to work tomorrow!