seoul trip pics and write-up

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The good thing about having decent hotel connection is I managed to write up the trip daily, just like when we went to Tokyo. So the experience feels fresher. The trip summary merges all the daily posts.

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The slight negative is I had to pick just a few daily pics to upload and post. The entire set of 521 pics and videos didn’t take long to sort and rename, but I forgot to upload them when I was at home and using mum’s slow internet it’s taken almost a week to upload since I had to do them in batches of no more than 30 at a time, and when no one else is using the internet. Anyway, set 1 and set 2.

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Some more that didn’t make it into the daily posts. Doors at bukchon, decorations and from ihwa wall mural art village. We were there almost 5 full days and didn’t make it to any of the palaces, world heritage sites, parks, river walks and a few areas like itawon and gangnam. I like our new style of travelling, not in as much hurry as before, trying to fit everything in. Because you can’t. We’d wake up whenever, have brunch, walk around our destination of the day, stop for coffee tea and take our time. 

korea trip day 06

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We don’t know if it’s a blessing or curse, mm woke up with severe stomach pain and suffered the whole day with diahorrea. We stayed in our hotel room as long as we could, left at 11am. Got the airport bus, checked in and through immigration. By then it was past 1pm and I was really hungry, but she wasn’t. We found the food court, I wolfed down a beef bibimbap (stone pot mixed rice) and she went to the lounge to find something she could eat. The flight was very full, I watched Transformers 3, ate her portion of fish dinner. Luggage was out before us.

 

korea trip day 05

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We woke up late again, heehee. Brunch was at myeong-dong, the main shopping area. We had ginseng chicken congee which was very good. Then it was almost the whole day of shopping nightmare for me. Socks, jewellry, clothes, clothes, bags, clothes, accessories. Cosmetics, including these silly named masks. Ack. None of which was interesting for me, and I had to maintain a neutral / happy face. I did manage to buy a few socks and a bag myself but it took me 1 minute to decide on what I wanted, then it was 20 minutes of waiting. The worse thing was having to pick different earrings, I don’t wear earrings, I have no interest in earrings, they all seemed the same to me. Torture.

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In between all the shopping I got an ice cream cone for myself and we visited a cat caré for coffee. There were something like 20 cats there. I took an anti-histammine before we went in so I was okay for allergies. They were mostly docile but not too friendly, they wouldn’g come up to us on their own. The owner gave us small dollops of cat food and only then did the cats rouse themselves and came up to us. Mostly a teenaged / twenty-something girlie thing to do.

kor0025ginseng

Shopping at myeong-dong was supposed to be an hour or so, it was 5 hrs before we left. Next stop was back to gwangjang market. No, we didn’t try the dog soup (because we didn’t have room). We had pancakes at a different stall as yesterday — more beanspouts and crunchier, we liked this one. Just as we were about to leave, these 3 drunken korean men came to sit at our table and proceeded to chat with us in broken english. I was having none of it, but mm was chatting back to them. Ugh, I put my foot down and we said our polite goodbyes.

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Bought small ginseng pieces and pickles from 2 separate stalls. Small melons completed our grand total purchases. I ended the day with some socks, a small bag, some chocolate and 200g ginseng. All of the rest were mm’s purchases. We went back to the hotel to dump all our bags then headed for dinner at the barbeque place a few doors down. Highly recommended, today we had beef short ribs and pork ribs. I’d had enough for the day so I ordered a soju to go with the meal. Back to the hotel to finish the fruit in the fridge and packing.

korea trip day 04

kor0020pancake

We’ve woken up too late every day for breakfast, just as well because it means we can have more lunch. Today’s destination was gwangjang market’s meokjagolmok (food alley). Plenty of choices — pancakes, mixed rice bibimbap, traditional blood sausage, tteobokki, noodles, soups, even one stall that had just one big tureen bubbling with a meat soup. We didn’t see the sign at first, then we spotted it “healthy dog soup.”

Like many people who headed for this meokjagolmok, it was for the pancakes made with ground soy bean, flour and fried with a little onion. Really good, would have loved another one except we were saving our appetite for other food. We walked around some more and decided on a stall that offered traditional meat dishes. Most of the stalls were small, with benches in front seating at most half a dozen people. Some stallholders were very enthusiastic whilst others were too busy chatting on their mobiles. This one had a nice friendly lady. We had blood sausage (they call it sundae), a plate of spicy mixed pig’s skin and chicken feet, and a stew that was definitely offal (we think stomach or lung). All were nice, although admittedly not to everyone’s taste.

When we came out of the market it was raining somewhat, but we decided to walk to our next stop because we were full from lunch, and it looked complicated by subway. Only 1.6km (1 mile) but 2-3 changes involved. Iniitially it was nice but the rain started getting very very heavy, we had to take refuge in a coffee shop, and then the lobby of a hyundai car showroom.

kor0021mural

Despite the rain, it was worth the effort to go to the mural village at ihwa-dong. The village was located on the hillside and many houses, walls and signs were painted by local artists. Cute bunny rabbits, flowers, children, one wall was painted black with the title before i die but most were of happy themes.

kor0022mural

Part of the fun was traipsing around the village’s narrow alleys and stairs trying to spot the murals. With the rain we probably walked through half the village, and we had to remember to look left, right, up, down and even behind us. This flower painting was on the steps and if we hadn’t looked behind us when we walked down we would have missed it.

The rain eased a little after we finished, so we walked to dongdaemun. Early dinner of soy sauce crab and beef tartare. The so-called market there was several buildings full of shops for clothes, accessories, shoes. We bought a sweatshirt each, some bags and accessories for gift. By then it was 8.30pm but we had one final stop at lotte mart near seoul station. Reminded us of a chaotic superstore. We bought a case of noodles and some ready meals of ginseng chicken and soup. Tempted by the fruit. Too many shopping bags, we took a taxi back to the hotel.

korea trip day 03

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A tale of two markets today. Lunch was at Noryangjin fish market. A huge place, with hundreds of stalls on the ground floor selling fresh fish, crab, prawn and all manners of shellfish. On the first floor were small restaurants that would cook the fish customers bought at the stalls.

kor0014fish kor0015fish

After watching the action and a short debate, we decided on a plate of assorted sashimi, spoon worm that looked and tasted like pig’s intestines, fresh steamed fish and one of the food items on all adventurous food challenge lists: sannajki or live still moving octopus.

Yes, the tentacles were still moving and the suckers made it difficult to remove from the plate. People who tried it always said the tentacles stuck to the inside of their mouths but I didn’t get that. It was pretty much like a gimmicky octopus sashimi. The head was awful though, I chewed and chewed and chewed and didn’t get anywhere, had to spit it out. Not the taste but the fact that it was unchewable. Everything else was great, especially the steamed fish.

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Market #2 was the famous namdaemun market. Namdaemun means south gate and the gate formed one corner of the ancient seoul fortress. The gate burned down in 2008 after an arson attack, it was meticulously restored and I couldn’t tell the difference between the old and new one.

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The market itself was your standard street market with stalls selling clothes, snacks, household items, accessories and souvenirs. There was a street with food and another area with a few snack carts. We bought some dried cuttlefish, sweet potato and chocolate from a nice lady who let us try everything and gave us some sweets as freebies. We were quite tired by then so we found a coffee place to rest for a while before heading back to our hotel.

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Dinner was at a barbeque place a few doors down from the hotel. Belly pork and beef ribs, the meal total came to KRW25,000 (USD25). We walked around the Ewha University shopping streets after dinner and bought a few small accessories. It started raining so we made our way back to the hotel.

korea trip day 02

kor0007crab

We didn’t set the alarm, woke up at 9.30am. By the time we got ready it was around 10.30am. First stop was myeong-dong to exchange money, our friend recommended a place called embassy forex that had no commission and good rates, and we found that this was the only place with a queue and the rate was good.

A few stops on the subway brought us to the samcheon-dong area, the guidebook that mm borrowed from her friend recommended a great restaurant for soy sauce crab or ganjang gejang — blue swimmer crabs marinated in a special soy sauce, served raw. The sauce marinates the flesh and gives it a fantastic flavour and texture, the swimmers were full of roe. I’d never heard of this dish, apparently it’s part of a traditional royal palace meal and I can see why. Not cheap, KRW93,000 (USD93) for two of us, but well worth it. The crabs were super fresh and the banchans really nice.

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The area around the crab restaurant was full of small souvenir and craft shops. Socks for KRW700 (70cents), clothing and accessories. I like these lego keychains.

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Apart from shops the area was also near to the historical bukchon hanok village. Traditional houses still occupied. Very neat and pretty and well kept.

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We stopped for coffee at a café called the hanok, mm had americano coffee and I had a red bean ice. I was quite thirsty by then so the shaved ice was perfect.

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South of bukchon area was insadong, a touristy pedestrian street with traditional craft shops and galleries. It was quite busy when we got there around 5.30pm, we browsed around souvenir shops and craft shops, bought some small souvenirs and a couple of painted cups. We wanted to go to the same small family restaurant we went to in 2006. We found the alley no problem, and the women there still couldn’t speak english. We weren’t able to ascertain whether they were open, so they cleverly brought us to a nearby shop. Funnily the other person told us that they were too expensive, which was right. In 2006 it was KRW20k per person and now it was KRW40k (USD40). Considering our crab was double that, we could afford it, but we decided to explore other places.

We found another food alley off insadong. Several restaurants including ones that looked touristy and the one we ended up at, which was run by 3 family members. A traditional set was KRW13k per person, including banchans, porridge (delicious), soup, spicy pork, pancake. I had a soju and we totally enjoyed our dinner. Walked around the night stalls a little, then made our way back to our hotel. Another nice day.

101.1001 #86 | 30.30 #19 bbmm activity: korean spa jjimjibang

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Task #83 of 101.1001 and task #19 of 30in30 is to do a new activity with mm. We are in seoul for holiday and as soon as we got off the plane and deposited our luggage at the hotel, we headed to a jjimjibang spa to rest and pamper ourselves. We got the deluxe package at KRW100,000 (USD100). We ended up staying from 10am to 5pm so it was worth it.

The spa says it’s the largest in Korea. At a sprawling 7 floors I can believe it. There are sauna, steam areas, baths, massage rooms, sleeping rooms, relaxation hall, restaurants, a rooftop garden, internet café even a cinema.

First we got keys to our locker. The key was a regular locker key as well as a smartchip that recorded any purchases or treatments. We had a quick shower at the large bath area. Korean baths are like Japanese baths, sexes are segregated and you don’t wear anything inside except a small towel to strategically cover certain areas.

First stop of our treatment was the herbal steam bath. We were seated on wooden stools with an opening in the middle. The herbs and water were heated and the steam rose up through the opening. We were covered in a sort of plastic tent to keep the steam in. Quite surreal, the herbs smelled really nice though.

After the shower and steam we changed into standard issue pajamas—t-shirt and shorts. Everyone inside the facility was dressed in these pajamas. The massage part was 90mins of a mix of acupressure and thai style. The young technician got almost every troublesome spot in my shoulders, lower back, arms and definitely hit the ITB around my left knee.

At the end of the massage it was around 1pm so time for lunch. The spa had a cafeteria and 2 restaurants. We went to the self-service korean restaurant and had tofu soup and beef rib soup. Came with banchans and I had a tasteless beer.

We found massage chairs in the main hall and fell asleep for around 1.5hrs. One of the features of traditional korean spas is the sight of people asleep at sleeping rooms and areas. Admission is 24hrs so some people stay the night.

Then it was time to check out the heat rooms. The traditional pine scented one was so hot inside we could barely walk, our soles were burning up. Lasted 10 seconds inside there, max. The himalayan salt room was a pleasant 52°C, blankets were provided so we lay down and rested on pink salt crystals. The charcoal heated rooms were good too, we went into the high temperature one, around the same as the salt room. In between rooms, we sat in the ice room to cool down, and then on the floor.

Last stop was the baths area. There was a steam room and half a dozen baths at different temperatures. We like the outdoor ones for the fresh air, the ones with jetstream massage and the cold 24°C cooling pool.

Great day, and the perfect cure for a night spent on a red-eye flight.

korea trip day 01

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Early start, flight at 1am arrived 5.30am. Didn’t get much sleep on the plane, slow moving immigration meant we were out at arrivals after 7am. After a little walking around, we finally found the right stop for the airport bus to take us to our hotel. Trip was over 1hr, so we managed to nap a bit.

Way too early to check into hotel, so we left our luggage and headed to the subway. Got a t-money (like octopus) and our brains weren’t working, we initially only filled up for KRW1,000 (USD1.00). Hahaha. Caught the mistake easily. The destination was dragon hill spa, a traditional korean spa occupying 7 floors of a building. There were spas, steam rooms, dry heat rooms, saunas, massages, restaurants, resting area and even arcade games and a rooftop garden. We went for the massage package at KRW100,000 (USD100) including 30mins of herbal steam bath, 90mins of acupressure massage. The steam bath was interesting, and the massage was excellent. Lunch was typical korean food of tofu soup and beef rib soup. We got to the spa around 10am and we left at 5pm. Lots and lots to do in term of rest, pampering and relaxation.

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We took the subway at rush hour back to our hotel area at Ewha Women’s University. The night street vendors were just starting and we grabbed a bowl of extremely spicy tteokbokki (aka topoki) and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

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Hunting around the street market area looking for dinner led us to a homely upstairs place serving tofu hotpot with spicy squid. Wow, food in korea is hot! The tofu was wonderfully silken. Of course, walking back to the hotel we saw many other restaurants, but we were happy with our choice. Popped into a supermarket to get water and green tea for the next few days.

The hotel is new, it’s more like a serviced apartment with a small kitchenette, a full sized fridge, a washing machine, a closet and even a shoe cupboard. Happy with our choice and happy to be settled in early.

korea 3

Went to bed at 9.30pm last night. Only woke up briefly at around 2am but otherwise slept through. Still tired though.

First meeting was in another area that needed taxiing, no big deal. Lunch with ex-colleagues and I was so happy to see them. One more meeting in the afternoon and I was done by 4pm.

It was cold. And a part of me wanted to stay in and read. Another part felt like a little adventure. In the end the need for a walk won out. surprisingly the walk to Namdemun was short, the hotel was nearer than I thought. I remembered many of the stalls and found the one that sold these delicious sweet flatbreads. Also had a small bowl of noodles at one of those streetside stalls.

Dinner was a toss up between room service and the hotel restaurant. Again, adventure won out and I found myself seated at the buffet. Oh joy, they had raw beef with pear. And lots of sashimi, salad and king crabs. Didn’t have too many of the hot food, preferring to have the more special items. Tried not to get too full.

Conference call at 9pm that lasted 1.5hrs. Tired. Still.

korea 2

What do you call the nice person who comes round to your hotel room while you’re out and makes up your room for you? In most hotels it’s usually maid or attendant. Here at the Westin Chosun they are Room Stylists. They leave a little note at your bedside table with their name and photo; so I know Mrs Young styled my room today. heh.

Meetings were fine today, the staff are very friendly. The admin department took me to Hanilkwan, a traditional Korean restaurant that has been around since 1939. The lunch was KRW23,000 per person and I had grilled sirloin in red wine sauce. The beef came sizzling in a hotplate and was delicioius. There were the usual side dishes, kimchi, as well as salad and strangely, an oyster.

After the grill course, there was the starch course. A choice of bibimbap or beancurd soup with rice or noodles. I had the soup, it’s mm’s favourite.

My colleagues said it’s a luxury lunch, which I guessed. It’s the sort of traditional place you’d take guests. I appreciated their taking me.

Meetings finished early so I took off back to the hotel. It was cold today and after being hot yesterday I decided to not wear my coat. Big mistake. The hotel is about 10 minutes’ walk from the office and I never really warmed up. Oh, on the way out from the office I noticed there was a rotiboy, oh boy I can’t resist those. A taste of Singapore in Seoul, hmm.

After consuming my rotiboy bun, I took off for Myeongdong, just across the street. Walking around mainly. But I soon got bored, because duh I don’t like shopping. Early dinner then, at the familiar chicken restaurant where I had ginseng chicken soup. What’s this about going to traditional restaurants, this one opened in 1960.

Got some seaweed and tea for souvenir and I’m already showered. Nice.

korea

sigh. guess what. I’m not home again.

This time it’s Seoul. Flight and everything was nothing special although my neighbour struck up a conversation with me. She’s an American lady who lives in Korea and she was curious about my accent, so we got talking about culture, technology and language. Normally I don’t talk to people on the plane but it turned out to be a nice chat.

Immigration was quick. I’m staying at the Westin Chosun hotel. Once out into the arrivals hall, all I had to do was to go to the hotel counter and the lady there took me to the airport bus. She actually gave me a choice of transportation — airport bus, hotel car or taxi. I mean, the bus is so convenient there is no point going for more expensive transport.

She must have called it in because I was greeted off the bus by the check-in staff. No need to check-in at the desk either, he took me right up to my room and I did all my signatures in the room. It was done in 2 minutes, very efficient.

I actually did not bring enough KRW in cash with me. I thought I had some leftover from the previous trip but it turned out to be only $50 in total. Yikes. There was enough for the bus and to go the 7-eleven to get some drinks. But dinner had to be room service. I had beef rib soup which came with kimchi and rice. Seriously, i don’t like room service it’s not value for money. ah well, I went to the supermarket in Sydney and lived off bread, ham and yogurt for 3 days, the company can pay for my room service for a few days here.

Of course the room is nice. The bathroom is nice. The bed is great. I’d rather be home though.

korea trip day four

The morning was spent at Namdaemun market where we found some areas and stalls we didn’t see last time. Like the market where there were stalls selling nothing but kimchi.

Had lunch at a restaurant along that alley that was full of restaurants. Tofu soup, seaweed rice and stuffed pork innards.

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Went back to Myeongdong and circulated the blocks several times. Had green tea at a very posh and lovely teahouse, trying to kill time. We decided to go to the airport early, had dinner there and visited the duty free shops. I was a bit bored (sorry, mm) and had a big hankering to find the internet area but resisted. Late afternoon flight, but the time I got home it was midnight.

The whole set of photos (143 photos) are at flickr.

korea trip day three

Took the subway one stop to Namsangol Park & Heritage Village. I thought there’d be an entrance fee but it was free. Nice peaceful park, not too large and good for walking. There was one section where they buried a time capsule to be opened in 40 yrs time.

Another part of the park was a replica of a traditional Korean village. The houses were real, and for a change there was furniture so we could picture what it was like.

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Long, tiring walk to Dongdaemum market. mm bought some shoes, but I was pretty tired. Eventually we went back to Insadong to continue exploration, it seems we like it there best. More shopping, mm bought more shoes and we both bought some cheap t-shirts. She also bought a multi-coloured woollen scarf which I promptly “borrowed” lol.

I like Insadong, we discovered a small shopping complex that had quite hip stores, and art too.

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Back to hotel to drop our shopping off. Then to a restaurant behind the hotel where we had raw beef with pears (ages since we had that) and hot pot. Pretty good. Afterwards we walked the food off before going to the Korean Sauna. First we had to go inside a hot oven to sweat, then after resting we were led to the spa area. It’s like the Japanese version where you shower then try out all sorts of different baths. Middle-aged women scrubbed, washed and massaged us, it was an experience. Was like 1am when we left.

Oh, it was my birthday today.

korea trip day two

Took the City Tour bus from the stop opposite our hotel. It’s one of those hop-on-hop-off affairs so we plan to use it as our mode of transport today.

The bus took us to Namsan and Seoul Tower — places we’d never go on our own. Our intended destination was Changdeokgung Palace but it got obvious that the bus wasn’t going to get us there in time for the 1pm tour. So we stayed on the bus for one more stop and went to Insadong.

I love Insadong, it’s a quaint little street with art galleries and antique shops. Another place I visited last time. We went to the same tiny family-style restaurant I stumbled into last time. Sitting on the heated floor, communicating with the ladies who worked there in sign language. We had a most wonderful lunch of all sorts of dishes — fish, soup, steamed egg, tons of kimchi, tofu, pork … everything in small plates arranged all over the table. KRW20,000 each, IIRC.

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More walking around Insadong, but there wasn’t enough time to fully explore before we had to make our way to Changdeokgung Palace to join the 3pm tour (we had to join a tour as that’s the only way visitors can go in). Nice palace, but empty buildings. I think I’ve see too many historical buildings in my life, it was nice, nothing exciting.

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After the Changdeokgung we hopped back to the bus and went to Itaewon, which is supposed to be vibrant and full of shopping. We didn’t like it, it had too much of an even more downmarket version of Camden market to it. Luckily we had the tour bus ticket and spent half an hour walking around before catching the next bus back to the hotel.

We got off the bus and noticed a local restaurant right by the bus stop and decided we should have dinner there. We interpreted the Korean menu using a complicated series of guesswork and comparisons with photos on the walls. We had miso bean curd set and a clear beef soup. VERY nice. And cheap too, KRW5,000 I think.

Lots of walking, I was tired.

korea trip day one

We decided to go to Korea for our birthday trip this year. This is a backdated entry.

Flight was late, we were both very tired on the plane, mm more so. I was actually more hungry so I stayed awake for the food service. Plane arrived at around 5am, by the time we got out to the bus area it was almost 6am. Even though the language was incomprehensible, getting the airport bus tickets was straightforward, soon we found ourselves on the comfortable bus with recling seats. And fast asleep.

Got to the hotel early, and they let us check-in. Woot! We stayed at the Sejong Hotel which is just behind Myeongdong and convenient.

We unpacked and decided to rest for a while. Because we were so tired it turned out to be a 3 hr nap, which was probably a good thing. We went out around lunch and explored the streets of Myeongdong. I was in Seoul for business 18 months ago and remembered some parts, though it took me a little bit to re-orientate myself. We had lunch at a restaurant that only sold chicken, and there were only two types — roast or ginseng. We had ginseng chicken, one each … small chicken.

After lunch we walked to the Catholic Cathedral where a couple had just finished their ceremony. We sat around for a little while, then the lights went out! Must be saving energy since the ceremony finished. We left the cathedral, walked through Lotte Hotel to City Hall. Totally unplanned but we caught some changing of the guard ceremony at the Deoksugung Palace.

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From the Deoksugung, we walked to Namdaemun Market. There were all sorts of stalls including food, snacks, clothing, scarves, shoes, kitchenware. We were tired, so we went to a basement café that was straight out of the 1950s. It was quiet though, and we both fell asleep a little.

Bought lots of seaweed snacks and mm bought some scarves. Went back to the hotel via subway, fell asleep for an hour again (lots of napping today!), then went out to a nearby restaurant where we had an all-you-can-eat barbeque dinner of beef and pork. They kept serving us food and we were very full. We also shared a bottle of rice wine.

Read our brochures for a little bit, then went to bed.

checking in

I’m in the CX lounge of Seoul’s Incheon airport. I realised that I’ve been in so many airports this year that I should start a category just on airports. Like how to get to and from the airport to the city, whether or not there’s public transportation, what’s the food and shopping situation like.

Like the worst, I mean totally worst airport has to be JFK. Separate terminals, no facilities, if you haven’t made arrangements or if no one is picking you up then god help you trying to get into NY.

The best airport for me would be one of the modern Asia airports. Hong Kong, Singapore, even where I am now, Incheon. Clean, efficient, easy access. Zurich’s good, compact, functional and how can you beat those fantastic trolleys that you can take on escalators. Heathrow’s too big, the walk to the Heathrow Express is too long, and having to haul your luggage down to the platform is a minus. The long wait for baggage is also a big downer.

I dunno. Just a thought.

i walk and walk and walk

Today was a day of walking. And walking. And walking.

Went north from the hotel, 20, 25 minutes to Insa-dong. On sundays it’s closed to traffic and stalls are set up, mainly antiques and bric-a-brac. lots of people but not yet at the very crowded stage. Browsed around, looking at the antiques, toys, jewelry, food.

Almost decided to have lunch at a safe place — on the main strip, English menu available, touristy looking. But decided against it. Went in one of the narrow side alleys and to a local looking place, small with low tables on a tatami. Asked the lady waitress to order for me, she knew a little English, I think she ordered the “full course” for me, then again she could have said fish course.

When it arrived, there were like 10 or so small dishes, different types of kimchi, non-spicy vegetables, steamed egg, pickles, grilled fish, rice, soup. Cold tea on the house. Nice. Very nice.

Walked on through some local side streets to the Changdeokgung Palace, which charged W2,300 admission, and the last English tour had finished. Entrance with a tour only, I had the choice of Korean or Japanese tour. I chose not to go. Walked to the Royal Shrine, looking at the map it seemed there was an entrance on the Palace side, except it wasn’t. So I had to virtually walk around the whole shrine enclosure to get to the entrance proper.

More empty but nice looking buildings. There was a footbridge to the Changgyeongung Palace (right next door to the other one). By that time I was pretty tired so I just did a short circle and headed out. Wished I knew more Korean to be able to take a bus. Didn’t want to take a taxi so walked back toward Insa-dong. Got a subway at the end, 2 stops to City Hall.

Dinner was ginseng chicken soup, with a whole chicken stuffed with rice and ginseng roots. The restaurant actually only had 2 items on the menu, the chicken in soup, or whole roast chicken. A real specialist place.

Thought about another 32cm ice cream but decided against it. Bought a local rice wine, a bit like mild sake, I think it’s better than ice cream.

exploring the new

Usually in a new country the language is new, but in asia and some of europe it’s possible to make out some of the words. The Korean language is nothing like the western alphabet, so I’d see shop signs and will have absolutely no idea what kind of a shop it is. Feels a little bit disorientated.

But I walk on nonetheless.

First was a visit to the Deoksugung Palace. W1,000 entrance to see a handful of empty palace buildings. Still in very good condition and very peaceful, quite a good way to spend an hour or so. Took a picture for a couple of girls on a disposable camera, filed it away as a potential story idea.

Walked south toward the Namdaemun (south gate) and the big market next to it. So much available, from food to clothing to everyday items. Fresh food, kimchi, dried fish, a whole alley of small restaurants. Leather jackets (oh, so tempting), a whole street of women’s clothing, shoes. Household items, stationery, even one stall that seemed to sell nothing but hangers.

Lunch was at stalls along the way. Some glutinous cake in spicy sauce, deep fried batter, small Japanese style skewers, energy drinks from the 7-11 type stores.

Back to hotel in the afternoon for a rest.

Dinner with my colleague at Myeongdong, which is almost a replica of Shinjuku in Tokyo, all narrow streets and bright neon lights and street stalls. Had bbq beef and pork, a glass of wine included. W41,000 for 2 persons. Walked around and had soft ice-cream, which they serve very tall — 32cm apparently.

Bought some small souvenirs of a prominent actor/idol (no clue who he is, but his face is everywhere, looks a bit like Harry Potter) for the girls at the service centre, next time I visit.

Tired now.

a brand new country

I’m jumping up and down (metaphorically), cos now I can add a new country to my visited countries list.

I’m in Seoul.

The new airport was so much more impressive than the Taipei airport, wide and straight highway into the city. Staying at the Lotte Hotel, the largest in Korea, with over 1,000 rooms. Once in the room, it’s just like any other hotel room. it’s got a fax, printer and desktop PC. Which kinda annoys me cos I can’t plug my Powerbook into the broadband. I’ll just use the PC then.

The minibar has the most number of canned drinks I’ve ever seen, it’s choc-a-bloc, all 3 shelves with soda, beer, water, all sorts. The soda here is sold in tall, thin 100ml cans, a bit like the ones in Japan. And there’re some unknown types I don’t really know if I should try or not.

I’m watching the Pentagon Channel, which is obviously aimed toward US army people based outside the US. The programs themselves are pretty updated, like the most recent versions of Leno, Letterman and Access Hollywood. There’s Survivor, The Apprentice, 7th Heaven, and some other programs.

But the ads are really strange. Promotion for the armed forces. Telling people to be vigilant and not reveal potentially sensitive information. Appeal to learn the host countries’ languages. It’s so sincere it’s bordering on the crass.

I need my sleep. See what time I wake up tomorrow. Yawn.