My week in Seoul has come to an end. Tomorrow morning I fly down to Jeju Island at the south of the country for one more week of vacation, then it’s off to home.
I’m not a fan of cities. Okay, I enjoy the convenience of things, but that’s pretty much it. I don’t like crowds. I don’t find (most of) the buildings pretty. Buses and subways stress me out (though, thankfully, there’s English used on them, too.) Nightlife isn’t particularly my thing.
So why Seoul, then? Why not some smaller city, at least?
The primary reason: roleplay. My site that is set in Seoul is one of my favorites, and I wanted to get a feel for what the city was like – what food there was, what the city looked like at any given hour, and more logistical things like how to get from here to there. Call me a nerd. Call me addicted to RP (I won’t deny that I am). This was my main reason for visiting Seoul.
Then there were the less glamorous reasons of “Going to Korea and not seeing Seoul?!” and “Well, I’m flying into the city. I might as well check it out.” I far prefer the roleplay excuse.
My plans for Seoul I had worked out well in advance, back in the last month or two before I left Japan. This sight wasn’t open on Mondays, so I’d have to go on another day. It would take twenty minutes by subway to get from A to B, then fifteen more to get to point C. That should be good for Wednesday. It’ll cost such-and-such won for entry fees and transportation money. I had it all mapped out, with at least two sights I would see every day I was here. With my handy dandy phrasebook by my side and English and Japanese under my belt (or partly under my belt), figuring my way around shouldn’t be too awful. I could do this.
And I did. For the first day I was here.
After sleeping in until about 9:30 Tuesday morning, I took my map of Seoul and set off for the War Memorial Museum and the National Museum of Korea. I made it there by 11:30 and started my tour of the areas. Look! Here’s proof!
Of the two, I preferred the war museum, but the are both excellent. (For anyone who knows my character Gyousei, he had a ball at the prehistory sections of the National Museum, though!)
Right next to the National Museum of Korea was the National Hangul Museum. (Hangul is the Korean script.) Sweating in the heat and legs aching from all the walking, I persevered to see this museum. Even though I’m not great at them, I love languages, and I especially love any script that isn’t Latin-based. How could I pass up this place?! So up the escalator I went (praise be for that escalator!), and I stepped into the much smaller museum. I enjoyed it, but many of the explanations were only in Korean, so I ended up looking around for a few minutes and leaving. There was one cool interactive room that I didn’t get to try out because the kids were having too much fun there. Alas!
Just as I started to head home, I saw a small trail off to the side. After much debate – did I want a few minutes in nature or did I want to go collapse back at the hostel? – I decided to make the trek. I ended up seeing a small waterfall, Dragon Falls. Pleasant, but I was too worn out to properly enjoy it. Maybe you all can do that for me?
My dinner that night consisted of some instant ramen, and my legs (particularly the backs of my knees) only stopped hurting yesterday. That’s what I get for doing nothing in Japan.
After Tuesday, my plans got derailed. Rain on Wednesday kept me inside until dinner when I met with an old friend who had just gotten into the city. She took me to a yummy restaurant, up to a university campus where we laid out under the stars at the foot of a cathedral, and then to get shaved ice. It wasn’t like any shaved ice I’d had before – it looked more like powdered snow and didn’t melt – but it was delicious! Sweet potato, a couple chunks of cheesecake, some sweetened condensed milk~ Yum! Unfortunately I was too full from dinner to be able to finish it all. I’m ashamed.
(Oh, and for those who know my character Han, the celebrity who advertised for the shaved ice place was the face of his brother, Sun Woo! Imagine the joy and the discomfort we felt at that.)
Coming home that night, I decided what was one day of a messed up schedule? I’d just go see the Seodaemun Prison Museum on Thursday.
Earlier I had ended up talking with another guest at the hostel, who has lived in Seoul for 5 years and been teaching English. So when I popped into the hostel after I got home from shaved ice goodness, he asked if I’d be up for helping him film some videos for a project he’s working on called Published Media. Essentially what he wants is to post videos of natural English conversations, ones that anyone can watch and learn from. For example, there is one about joining different clubs, and it’s not specific to only high school clubs or only community organizations. Once it gets going more, he’s hoping to have people write in and request videos – for instance, a video on going to the doctor or about different English nicknames. So I got to help with that, which was awesome!
The next day, Friday, I finally got to go to the prison museum. My friend showed me around (which was great because I didn’t have to figure subways out by myself!), but we had to rush a little to get back to the hostel by a certain hour. Still, it was a great museum, and I recommend it. I particularly liked a memorial room, where three of the walls were covered with photos and names of people who had been imprisoned there.
That ended my official sightseeing portion of my Seoul visit. Though I had planned to see all these sights and visit all these locations, I haven’t been to any other famous place (other than a couple statues). I’m fine with that, though, and not only because I would have been physically and mentally exhausted by it. Instead, I got an awesome personalized tour of different parts of town (Hongdae twice) from my friend who lives here. We ate Japanese food with another friend one day and soup on another. We sang karaoke for two hours, got pizza and ice cream (and I got to speak Japanese, yaaay!), and saw live music for an hour and a half. It’s been great! I’m gonna go to Jeju and be shocked that I’m not with a friendly tour guide anymore! Manage by myself? What are you talking about?! Where’s my first-class treatment?!
And that’s my Seoul experience. As I write this, I’m sipping yet more coffee and looking at a cream cheese bread that I want to eat but am not yet hungry for. (Oh, the struggles!) Maybe I’ll go out for one more dinner later. What do I want?
OH! Bonus story for those of you who have followed along this far!
So I got to the hostel late Monday night. On Tuesday after my day of walking, I wanted a shower. I went into the shared bathroom in my hall and saw the shower, which was just a thin metal thing with two knobs – one to turn the water on and off and one to switch the flow of water from the shower head to the hand-held one. Call me exhausted or a confused foreigner, but I couldn’t get the shower to work no matter what I did. For days. Even though I walked into the bathroom after someone had clearly had a shower. I still couldn’t figure it out.
I told my new friend about this issue, and he said there was a lever or something on the knob, and I had to push that lever out to the side first, then tilt the knob up for hot and down for cold. It wasn’t a knob I could just twist to turn on and off, which I was used to having. I swore up and down to him that I never saw such a lever, and on the way back to our rooms after a trip out, I told him to see for himself. So he poked his head into the bathroom, thinking he’d get to prove me wrong and have a little laugh about it.
“Oh. The lever’s broken.”
He showed me how to turn the shower on and adjust the water. What a lifesaver! (By that point it had been about three days without a shower, and I desperately needed one.) Lesson learned.
Alright, bonus story time over. Sorry, kids. Hopefully I’ll get another post up for you before I leave Jeju next Tuesday. We’ll see.