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Korea: Exploring Seoul

November 10, 2011

After another early night, we were awake and out the door by 8AM. It was time to explore the traditional market in Insadong. Our legs were worse for wear after our 24 km hike (likely from our jogging parts of the downhill journey) which made every metro stop transfer pretty painful, particularly going down the stairs. I was getting used to the elbow-shoving and lack of order on the trains. The mentality is really everyone for themselves. Perhaps it’s the coveted seated spots, in which 99% of people put earphones in and engage with their smart phone for the duration of the ride. Not that Vancouver is much different, minus most of the elbow-shoving.

The market was quite a juxtaposition. Gorgeous scarves, hand crafted hangings and fine Korean teas were in stark contrast to the colourful, plastic phone accessories and $2 socks adorned with random and colorful pictures and phrases. We capped off the market trip with a tasty lunch at a brown rice specialty restaurant. Despite the fact that the rice was, as always, white and not brown, it was still delicious.

The next step was to rush back to the hotel and plead ignorance as we missed our checkout time by ~ 25 min. No problem; excellent! Especially considering our hotel was a somewhat fancier version of the “love motels” across the street. Thse are places that often charge by the hour for obvious reasons. They can be identified by the “drapes” that hang in front of the parking lot, designed to hide the license plates of vehicles that wish to be “visiting” the love motel in anonymity. The ironic part is that the drapes don’t actually go down far enough to cover most of the licence plates so in actuality the vehicles are emphasized rather than hidden.

After a hot and heavy (backpack-wise) journey across town for a couple of hours, we arrived at James’ friend Jacob’s place. He confirmed that it was unseasonably hot here the past few days. You wouldn’t know it, judging by the sweaters, pants, and suits in the metro but we were still coated in sweat despite our t-shirt and tank top attire. Not that we can complain but our toques and mitts were definitely not needed.

After settling into Jacob’s, we headed out for dinner and a scavenger-hunt birthday party of a fellow ex-pat. It wasn’t uneventful though. We were late to the restaurant, partially due to the long walk, and partially due to a robbery that Jacob witnessed. A woman’s wallet, cash removed, was discarded on the road by the suspect. By the time the guys realized they should try to confront the thief, it was way too late. Going through her wallet, we tried to find a phone number to contact her. No such luck. We found credit cards and a variety of pink cards with cartoon animals on them. I’m still not sure what the cards were for because the writing was in Korean but wasn’t surprised, given the Hello Kitty theme that is prevalent in this country. We brought the wallet and story to the police and they proceeded to question Jacob, asking “How old was the suspect? Twenty?” Gotta love the leading questions! They subsequently piled into a cop car, with Jacob and his friend Clay in tow, to try and track down the thief.

About 30 min later, we met at the pre-determined restaurant without any success in capturing the thief and with a 30 min wait for a table… so we walked on with grumbling stomachs, to a nearby sikdang (restaurant). I had a gelatinous chestnut-based soup and the fresh cold broth was actually quite delicious.

The birthday party was next on the agenda. We started upstairs in a pub and it was pretty neat to see how excited everyone was to see James again. It’s definitely a tight-knit group in the Ulti-ESL teaching group in Korea.

The scavenger hunt was up next and quite a bit of fun. There were an array of activities; from push ups and handstands in the crosswalk, to disco dancing and singing on video in the corner store, to group birthday messages on recycled cardboard. A fun time was had by all. Our team’s pinnacle was when we put our clothes on backwards and re-entered the pub singing to Criss Cross’ “Jump Jump”. A feat that would have been much easier in baggy pants. Fitted jeans on backwards isn’t a flattering or comfortable look. Our efforts paid off though; we came 2nd and won a huge pumpkin pie from Costco.

We “rolled” ourselves home in a cab around 1AM. The 20 min cab ride cost about $5 CAD, Which, incidently, is much cheaper than anywhere I’ve seen. Gas is very expensive so who knows how this works. Other things (many food items etc) are very pricey so it doesn’t add up. Anyway, I welcomed another night’s sleep even though it was on the floor and my body was definitely still in rough shape from the hiking, walking and backpacking. Nonetheless, a free room is a great price.

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