Going 300 km/h, backwards!

12 May

My blog has been abnormally dormant this past week!  Just an update:  my flat is finally fully furnished and I must say I love the new place.   Nicola and Diane and Shana still live relatively close and my building is across from Nicole’s building.  So yeah, it took two months, but things in Korea are looking up!

Last week Nicola and I celebrated our 4 year anniversary! We wanted to go to Jeju but the flights were already kind of full when we checked a month ago, so Seoul was our next option.  Seeing that we haven’t been to Seoul since we got to Korea we had to check it out!  Last week Wednesday was a public holiday here in Kimchiland (children’s day) and many schools decided to take the Thursday and the Friday off as well.  The DMOE informed our schools that even if the school decides to take a school holiday day native English teachers are still obliged to come in.  Ridiculous right?  I will never understand Korean logic.  This is because our contracts do not state that we can have those days off, but then again our contracts also don’t say we cannot have those days off.  So stupid!  So when I got to school last Monday my co-teacher informed me that I must come in on Thursday and Friday even though there will be absolutely no one at school.  No teachers and no students.  Just me, myself and I.  If I wanted to have those days off I would have to take it out of my paid leave. Sucks big time.  So I moaned and wined and moaned some more.  I ask them nicely if they cannot give me those days off because I do not want to use my holiday days. And for the first time since I’ve been in Korea my schools did something in my favour.  They decided to grant me those days BUT I have to submit a 3 page report on my cultural experiences in Korea!  I’ll write a 100 page report for a 5 day weekend!  Yeah baby!

So on Tuesday I made dinner and invited some friends over. We then went out for some drinks.  On Wednesday (Children’s day) we lazed around the apartment and watched a movie. It was so nice to just be.  Not doing anything, just hang around!

Seoul here I come!

6 AM wake up call!  I’m going to Seoul.  Nicola did not get Thursday and Friday off so she only joined me Friday after work.  I rushed to get to the train station as I wanted as much time in Seoul as possible.  I got to the train station just after 7 but guess what, the first available seat on the KTX is a t 9am.  There is a regular train that left just after 8 am but it takes 4 hours to Seoul and the KTX only 1h45min.  That’s right, the KTX is Korea’s version of the bullet train and at top speed it travels at 300 km/h.  Now if it travelled at that speed the entire journey the trip from Daegu to Seoul will only take about an hour but the KTX slows down some parts of the journey.  Nonetheless 300 km in 1h45min is the fastest I have ever travelled on land!  It was super.  I got about 2000won discount on my 38 000 won ticket because the only available seat was facing backwards.  Thus I travelled at 300km/h, backwards.  There are only two things I can remember from my Journey, and that is waking up in Daejon and then again in Seoul, crossing the Han river to be exact.

Seoul station isn’t as crazy as expected and I found my way to the subway quite easily.  Figured out how to buy a ticket and I jumped on the subway to go to my hotel, in the wrong direction.  I only realised this after two stops and quickly switched trains.  I had to make three transfers to get to my destination.  After a bit of a struggle I eventually located the Holiday in Korea hotel and went on my way to explore Seoul.  My first stop was Insa-dong.  This is a lovely little area that reminds you that Korea is also be a tourist destination.  Many tourists make their way down Insa-dong gil in search of that perfect souvenir.  To keep the authenticity of the area the Seoul metro decided that the area must be all Korean.  Therefore when Starbucks wanted to open in Insa-dong it had to look Korean.  So they wrote Starbucks in Hangeul.  Apparently this is the only starbucks in the world where the name is not written in English.  The logo is still in English but the “Starbucks Coffee” part is in Hangeul.

While walking up and down Insa-dong I stumbled upon this little café that overlooked the street.  I had a delicious cappuccino and then headed back to the hotel.  As I was walking down Insa-dong gil I took in the sights and listened to my ipod when suddenly I got pulled aside by this weird Ghandi looking dude.  In a very deep Russian accent he told me that I looked very intelligent and therefore I should have a look at this book, and then he forced a little booklet with the title Yoga in my hands.  I quickly flipped through it and thought to myself seriously!  I mean has this guy seen me or is he blind, does it look as if I do, or want to do yoga!  Anyhow further in the book I see hari Krishna and give him back the book.  I told him its not my religion and that I’m not interested.  He assured me it’s not a religion but a lifestyle and I should give him a small donation …blah blah blah, so I went on my way again!  After Insa-dong it was down to Iteawon with me.  I wanted to go there and get it over with.  Everybody who goes to Seoul doesn’t have much praise for foreignerville  but I wanted to see for myself.  Nothing spectacular.  Although there are shoes and clothes and foreign restaurants, which is good for “escaping” Korea for a while.  I bought a pair of shoes that actually fit!

After a quick nap at the hotel Nicola phoned and told me that Grant and Tina (co-epikers from Daegu!) are also in Seoul.  So I arrange to meet them in Iteawon as it’s the only area I’m sorta familiar with.  Walking in Iteawon a truck drives past me and splashes what seemed like 1000 litres of dirty street water on me.  Great!  I look and smell like a sewerage pipe dweller and I’m supposed to meet up with friends.  Luckily I’m in Iteawon so I run into one of the stores that have “big size” on the front.  I flip through the jeans and found my size.  Its too big!  Size down then. After I told the English speaking salesmen what happened he was very helpful.  He found me a good pair of jeans and placed my wet smelly ones in two bags!  Great, of I went to find Grant and Tina somewhere in Iteawon.  We met up to this tiny little café and just chatted about everything and nothing.  It was really great!  We went out for a smoke and decided to go for a beer.  The first place we go into, I think it was called coyote casual bar, or something,  the beers were an astonishing 10 000 won.  Just a bit too pricey.  The very pretty and skanky looking Korean waitress told us that this is a “kind of special place” and that she will help us to find a regular bar or hof.  She pointed us in the right direction and all three of us went like Hooker bar much!  Seriously funny!  Tina, Grant and I talked about Korea, English, the world, politics, music – basically everything.  It was so much fun. It was look hanging out with some of my oldest friends, as if we have known each other forever.  The amazing thing is that we all come from such vastly different backgrounds and that we can unite in thought over a cigarette and beer!  After a great night we headed back to the subway.

On Friday I had to be up at 6am once again because I booked a tour to the DMZ that picked me up at my hotel at 7 am.  I will write about the DMZ later!

After I returned from the DMZ I walked around in Seoul.  I watch the changing of the guard at one or other palace.  And then I went back to the hotel for a much needed nap.  Nicola arrived in Seoul at around 8pm and I met her at Anguk station which is closest to our Hotel.  We then went to a university area for some dinner.  We stumbled upon this little pasta place and it was great.  After that we walked around a bit after returning to the hotel before the subways stopped running.

On Saturday we had a great day.  We walked all across Seoul.  First I showed Insa-don to Nicola since our hotel was a stones throw away.  We had a great breakfast at this little café just before you go onto Insa-dong gil.  From there we walked to this stream or canal.  The current president of Korea initiated the renovation of this canal when he was the mayor of Seoul.  It made him very popular with the people and whoops he went to Office!  From here we headed back in the direction of our Hotel as Nicola had made plans for us that would start at 6pm.  On our way back we went to this nice Artsy area in Seoul called Samcheong-dong.

We walked around, stumbled upon a toy museum and went up what they call the pavilion.  Its just a bunch of stairs in between the shops that lead up to the top of the buildings.  When we got to the top we were confronted with an amazing vista of Seoul  It was fantastic.  We walked on in Samcheong-dong and came upon all these old Korean style houses.  It is as if time forgot about this area.  In the background you can see the skyscrapers and “the miracle of the han river” but here there is still a sense of ancient Korea.  It was amazing!  After that we went to the Hotel to change.

Grand Hyatt and Seoul Tower

Nicola refused to tell me what we were doing for our 4 year anniversary.  With our anniversary and the much dreaded V-day, Nicola and I take turns.  One year I do something and the following year its her turn.  It works well for us!  So this year was her turn to plan our anniversary.  She has been at it for about a month now and Saturday was the big day!  We arrived at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul where we were supposed to have dinner.  We got a corner table and since the Grand Hyatt in on a hill we overlooked all of Seoul.  It was great.  The restaurant was buffet type, and not Korean buffet, Western buffet.  I was so happy.  There was food that I haven’t seen for over two months.  I am not very sentimental about food and under the circumstances (me being generally full of shit) I have adapted quite well here in Kimchiland!  Nicola and I both committed serious gluttony as we ate and ate and ate non stop.  It was so good.

After my bowl of ice cream I had to stop because my stomach was hurting so much.  I didn’t want to, the food was too good!  I literally thought I was going to die, I ate so much!  After diner Nicola had an other plan up her sleeve.  She asks the taxi driver to take us to Namsam park.  Once there we took the cable car to the Seoul Tower.  And once at the tower we took the super fast elevator to the top!  It wa great and the views were breathtaking.  Seoul is much prettier at night!  I can imagine how this place must look like from space.  It was a great night and a superb weekend!

Seoul is great but I’m not in love with the city,. For one or other reason Seoul just doesn’t have the same charm as say London, Paris or even Cape Town!  But going to Seoul was good for my soul!

Cheers from Kimchiland, for now!

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