Last week was the third week of VIP, and one of my best friends in the world, Dhaval, came to visit right in the middle of the week. Glenn met him at the airport Wednesday afternoon and then I came down to Seoul and met them in Itaewon for dinner. We had the most delicious Korean dumplings ever and then hung out at the Hamilton hotel, where they were staying the night. I had to go back to Paju because I was working the next day… or so I thought. I felt horrible when I woke up Thursday and had to take a sick day because my throat was killing me. I also developed laryngitis and had no voice, anyway. Strangely, with all the throat-related problems I’ve had for almost a year now, this is the first time I’ve gotten laryngitis.
Glenn and Dhaval came up to Paju on Thursday and we went to dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant. After that, we got dessert at a cafe in Heyri and ended up running into a few other EVers who joined us. The next day, Friday, I took another sick day because I still had laryngitis and we all went up to Odusan Unification Observatory, where Glenn and I had gone a couple of months ago on a tour organized by EV, where we were rushed through and didn’t get to go through the whole observatory. It was nice to be able to go and take our time to see everything; plus, the sky was much clearer and you could see a lot more stuff in North Korea! We used a coin-operated binocular machine and Dhaval was able to look over and see an actual North Korean in North Korea. It was pretty cool! Later on, Glenn was excited because he was able to buy North Korean wine in the gift shop. (He had buyer’s remorse later when he tried it only to discover it was possibly the worst-tasting drink he’s ever tried. I still think it’s cool he even got to buy wine that was made in North Korea.)
Before the observatory, we had gone to the Kimbap Changuk for lunch so that Dhaval could try kimbap (basically, Korea’s version of sushi). After the observatory, we went back to Seoul and checked into our hostel for the night in the City Hall area. We walked around there for a bit because there are plenty of sights to see, from a ton of cool buildings, to the larger-than-life statue of King Sejong, to the Gyeongbokgung Palace with a landscape of mountains in the background. We found another Korean BBQ restaurant for dinner, but it was hard to enjoy the food because the server was an impatient ajumma (old lady) who rushed us and hovered with an annoyed expression on her face. After dinner, we found a neat bar that specialized in beers and served unlimited popcorn. The guys enjoyed some drinks and then we walked down to Cheonggyecheon Stream, which is directly behind City Hall and looks really pretty at night. We hung out there for a little while before going back to the hostel and going to bed. I wasn’t doing too well because I felt lousy and had no voice, but I still had a great time and slept really well that night.
Saturday, we got up around 9:30am and checked out of the hotel an hour later. We went to a grocery store and bought various things to eat for breakfast before heading over to Gyeongbokgung Palace. We ended up spending more time at the palace than we had planned because it was a lot bigger than we had anticipated, and as we were trying to leave, we had to wait 10 minutes because the changing-of-the-guards ceremony was taking place and all of the exits were blocked for it. It was worth staying for, though, so we were glad that we got a chance to see it. Unfortunately, time was a little tight and after we got Dhaval’s luggage from the hostel and took the subway to Dongmyo Station, found where we needed to go, and grabbed a sandwich from 711 for lunch, the guys were already late for check-in at the temple stay.
Glenn and Dhaval stayed overnight at Myogaksa Temple, which is a Buddhist monastery that provides one-day programs as well as overnight programs. They checked in a little after 3:00pm and had an orientation, where they learned proper temple etiquette and did their first round of meditation. They had a delicious vegetarian buffet for dinner and did more meditating before bed at 9:30pm. Their Sunday started at 4:30am with more meditating and more learning about Buddhism in Korea. I had gone back to Paju Saturday afternoon and left at 7:45am Sunday morning to go back down to Seoul and meet them at the temple at 9:30am, which was their check-out time. Before leaving, they showed me around the temple and shared a little about what they had learned from the monks and nuns. It was quite an experience.
After leaving the temple, we went to Hongdae and met up with Dhaval’s other friend, Megha, who has been living, working, and studying in Seoul for 4 years. They hadn’t seen each other since 2007 and it was a lot of fun watching them catch up and getting to know Megha. She showed us around Hongdae and we first got lunch at another Korean restaurant, where Dhaval tried bibimbap, and then took us to another place for drinks. Glenn and I had to leave afterwards, because Glenn was going to be playing in the teacher talent show for VIP, so we bid farewell to Dhaval and left him with Megha for the evening. He leaves tomorrow, Monday, in the early afternoon.
It was a great visit! Even though I wasn’t feeling well at all, I had a really nice time and it was so refreshing to have a friend here from back home. It felt like a little mini-vacation, which was a much-needed break for me. I just wish that I didn’t have to go back to work tomorrow! (Luckily, this is the last week of VIP!)
I took a ton of photos, so please give them a look and feel free to leave comments!
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