Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Soul to Seoul

Our long holiday weekend has come and gone. A few months ago we saw this past weekend as an opportunity to go to Beijing and see the Great Wall of China but ended up deciding that we just couldn't afford to do so. So, we had the much less glamourous idea to instead take the KTX (bullet train) up to Seoul for the weekend. It's a very short 2 1/2 hour trip through mostly the countryside. I didn't know Korea was so mountainous! Some views through my window looked strikingly like home. However, with the mountains come the tunnels and nothing makes my ears hurt worse than hurling through tunnels on a train. Airplanes don't bother my ears one bit but trains and tunnels...forget it.

All last week I spent planning and booking things and printing maps and looking up places to eat. Some of the very few things I knew about Seoul previously was only that it's bigger than Busan, it has a Forever 21 and that I've had to stopover there twice on two separate flying occasions. Not much to go on. I did know before going up that my main goal for the weekend was to "get out of Korea" for a few days. Yes, Seoul is in Korea, but I figured there was enough American stuff there to keep me really happy for 72 hours.

Once we pulled into Seoul Station and exited about lunchtime I really felt I was someplace much larger than Busan. It was crowded. Busan has 3.6 million people and, truly, most days I don't feel as if I'm an extremely populated place. Seoul, on the other hand, has over 10 million people and I felt it the second I got off the train platform. It made me realize how small Busan really is comparatively. Busan is the second largest city but it doesn't feel like it, not at all. There is so much MORE in Seoul than in Busan, it's unreal.

Throughout the weekend there were times I felt like I was in any large city in the US. The diversity of people! Most of my life, apart from vacations, has been spent in very un-diverse places. The last four years of my life have been rural Canada, rural WV, rurual Japan, back to rural WV and now Busan which really doesn't have as many foreigners as I had anticipated coming here. And where the foreigners do congregate, 99% are from America, Canada, Europe or know, white...we all look the same. Wandering around NYC, for example, is just a big melting pot of people from all over the world and it was the same in Seoul. It was a group of Indian women in their saris, a family from Africa in their traditional clothes, Latino, Nepalese...I even saw one woman in her full burka. These are things that I don't get in Busan, things I like to see on an every day basis...a variety of people. The kids don't point and stare there like they do here, either, because they are so used to the diversity. Maybe this is just the small town girl in me coming out being happily amazed at the different people in the world...but onward!  

The first thing I see when we leave the station is Bennigans. A Bennigans! Open and ready for business. Aren't they all closed in the US? I would've loved a Monte Cristo while visiting but, alas, maybe next trip. I had a mission for lunch and that mission was Taco Bell, so Bennigans will have to wait. After we descended down into the metro elbow to elbow with everyone else we got our tickets and eventually found the right platform. Subways are subways and they essentially all work the same so it wasn't something that was overwhelming. What was overwhelming was the sheer size of that one station. Enormous. Our first destination was Myeong-dong station and the area we were staying in which has the same name. I chose this area because Myeong-dong is where the shopping is. Forever 21, H&M, Zara,'s fantastic. Also, it's very centrally located within the city. Luckily, Seoul Station is only two stops from Myeong-dong and I say lucky because the metro map looks like this:

 The last thing I would have wanted to do would be to navigate a strange subway and do three transfers to get to our hotel (again, lucky). It pretty much looks like someone took a bunch of spaghetti noodles, threw it on the ground and declared, "Ah! The subway map of Seoul!" (but this is nothing compared to Tokyo, google it, if you're so inclined)

Once we located our hotel and checked into our impossibly small room it was off to Taco Bell. It's located in the "foreigner district" of Itaewon, again, only a few stops from Myeong-dong and just right around the corner from the station exit. I get to the door and Heaven's Gates opened and inside waiting for me is my favorite fat kid food ever. I get a table outside and Al shortly brings out the tray laden with my disgustingly delicious lunch. After stuffing myself with tacos and nachos it was back to Myeong-dong to do some damage to my Korean bank account and watch those wons deplete.

Al likes shopping just as much as I, or any girl, really (<3) and he was just as eager to get in the stores. We first went to Forever 21, but upon seeing that it was three floors of awesomeness and that I would probably be spending a substantial amount of time in there, we went to the not-very-big-considering-it's-three-floors men's section first. It was to no avail. He found nothing in Forever so instead of walking around with me for hours we both went to H&M and that's where he hit the jackpot. I'm not going to make him wander around with me for the rest of the afternoon when I'm going to be ignoring him anyway so he went back to the hotel to sit on the patio and drink beer while I stayed in the shopping area to head back to Forever and finish at H&M. Three hours and 250,000 won later I'm jubilant and already feeling like I've left Korea for a while.

That night for dinner we had some very delicious Indian food (looooove curry) and called it an early night. The next day we had reserved for cheap outdoor market shopping. There were two good ones I had read about beforehand: Dongdaemun and Namdaemun. We went first to Namdaemun and though I feel like we probably saw only 5% of the entire thing, we weren't that impressed and it was starting to sprinkle. We decided to just grab a few little things from the street vendors to eat really quick (I didn't want to eat anything Korean whatsoever, but I was starving) so we got a kimbap (Korean-style sushi (without sushi) rolls) and a sort of patty thing with meat, noodles and vegetables in it that I can't remember the name. Also we ran across this menu from one of the vendors:

Stir fried pork intestines, chicken feet and pork with "lumpybones" (whatever that is). Yum. Nearly ruined my appetite. We decided to go back to Itaewon to find a real place to eat and went to a regular old pub/grill place with nothing unfamiliar on the menu (yay!). I got one of those taco-chili-mexican-tortilla soups...definitely can't find that in Busan. We decided to go to the other market, Dongdaemun, and had a very hard time finding where it was or even what it was because I read it wasn't a traditional street market. Once we finally located the place (miles of semi-derelict buildings with stalls inside) everything was closed. Lame. I was looking forward to rooting through the junk. For dinner we had ON THE BORDER. I'm talking the Mexican chain from the US. When people would ask Al what we planned on doing in Seoul he said he'd just tell them "we're going to eat Mexican food" and that's plenty alright with me, it's my favorite. I walked inside and I could be sitting in any Mexican place in any state and feel the same. Enchiladas....ahhhh!!!

Monday was leaving day and so we wanted Subway for lunch. Just so you know, it doesn't matter where you are in the world, all subways smell the same. Turkey can't be found in a grocery store over here so my turkey consumption since leaving the US is now up to two times. (first at Quiznos here in Busan - $$$$$) We had time to kill after eating so we decided to just wander around Itawon and happened to stumble upon two of the best streets I've ever found in Asia. One was a street with a ton of "foreign food" markets. O. M. G. I would DIE for one of these places here. Not only did they get progressively bigger the farther along the street we went but I bought more and more things along the way. I felt like I was wondering around Krogers or something. Cheetos, Colgate, Stovetop stuffing, Glade candles, oatmeal, cornmeal, tampons, cake mixes, ranch dressing, tomato soup, refried beans...tons upon tons of stuff that I've never seen in Busan and a lot of it came home with me. The other street was an international restaurant street. German, Ethiopian, Italian, Mexican, Turkish, was all represented. I sincerely wish I would've known about that place before going, we probably would've spent most of our meals there!

With my bags full of American grocery items we headed back to get our luggage and get to the train station to catch the 3:00 KTX. And after all that, I'm sitting in my Busan apartment thanking God that I don't live in Seoul. We would spend SO much money if we lived there. Eating and shopping, eating and shopping. No, I'm definitely glad we live here even if I don't have most of the conveniences of home or the variety of people like I would there.

(happy to be eating Indian food)

1 comment:

  1. Sam, I LOVE reading your blog...I smile, I laugh and I am able to imagine everything you write!! I hope you are saving these blogs on disk. I was for a while and probably need to be continuing to do so. One day when you are old you will want to read all of this again. I wonder why your ears hurt when you go thru tunnels? did they do that when you were little and going thru the Virginia "nunnels"?? lol...I got altitude sickness (deathly severe sinus attack) when I was in YellowStone but I don't get sick, ear problems or sinus stuff when flying either hmmm interesting isn't it. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Mexican too and can eat it everyday!!!
    The subway looks very confusing I can't imagine navigating my way around or even trying to even begin to read that map..... I HATE ALL maps...they all look like a bunch of spaghetti noodles to me. I remember your dad would always say "look at the map and see where we are".. But as I recall you always loved following along with the atlas as we went from just Jane Lew to Myrtle Beach hahaha!! That was a big trip back then :D I'm glad you enjoy a melting pot of people. And in your life time you are able to experience the world at your age. you are blessed to have such a cultural experience and I hope you appreciate every second of it.
    So did you NOT even get to go to your section of Forever 21 :( ??? that was the one place you were looking forward to! And lastly, the menu!! that was the funniest and grossest thing I've ever read!!
    I wish I could come visit you :) I love you bunches...Mom xoxoxoxo