Friday, 11 September 2009

I got Seoul, but I'm not a soldier

Another writing exercise for the kids is 'Process Writing' – where they practice using 'First, then, next, after that, finally'. So here is the process of our trip to Seoul....

First, I got up very very early on Saturday morning. This was possible due to excitement only, and my newly nocturnal body-clock fought back hard. Nonetheless, three of us Yalies made our way on the delightful KTX train up to Seoul. The KTX takes less than two hours, and is a very civilized way to travel. It's not cheap (over £40 return), but when you think about the time saved, and remember how much the oft-delayed trains of Britain cost, it's definitely worth it.

Next, we located our guesthouse. All that needs to be said about this is that it was a little further out than we'd anticipated and I shall take Lonely Planet recommendations with a pinch of salt in future. Having found it and dropped off our bags, we were all overheated, starving and a little cranky. This being Seoul, we decided to head to Itaewon, the foreigner district, for some home comforts at the American Diner. I do feel a smidge guilty that some of my favourite meals in Korea have been foreign food, but the burger at this place was Awesome. Much better than anything I've had in the UK. The other major selling point of Itaewon is the fantabulous English language bookshop. However, I did find the sensation of being in a majority again (Koreans don't really go to Itaewon) very unsettling. I didn't like it at all actually, and wanted to get back to normal Korea.

After that we hit the shops of Myeongdong. Here, we found overwhelmingly large crowds of Koreans and more raw capitalism than I have ever encountered. The choice of stuff was frankly intimidating, but I dug down deep and found I was able to face down my indecision and indeed, cash was spent. Most of it was in an American store (oh Forever 21, where have you been all my life?), but this is largely attributable to my rather Anglo-Saxon build not being compatible with tiny Korean dress shops.

Next, Insadong. A lovely district where every kind of Korean trinket is sold. If I buy you a souvenir, it will most likely be from here. There was one shop I want to live in – everything was handmade, colourful and Lovely. After all this shopping, we refreshed in one of the many tea-shops. We found ourselves in one which was decorated in the manner of an old-fashioned train, down to the graffiti on the walls, suitcases in racks and old train seats. The dedication to the theme was admirable.

Finally, dinner in Hongik University area. Oh the people watching. I wished I had 360° vision like a frog so I could take it all in. The students here were mental with the clothes, and it seemed like the whole world was out for a stroll and a drink. We just had some cheap dinner in an Orange store (not the phones, but 24-hour eateries) and wandered. While standing outside a little bar which had caught my eye, we were waved in by a rather flamboyantly dressed Korean chap (how I wish I had had the nerve to take a photo...) This bar was the highlight of the whole weekend for me. It was tiny: only 5 small tables and no real 'bar' to speak of, and the 'bartender' appeared to just be a local who also served beer and soju on occasion. The decoration was a arty in a not-too-pretentious way (lego-men!) and the clientèle was primarily Korean student-types. For all the amazingness of this establishment, we were awfully tired so we just enjoyed a couple of beers, and headed back to the guesthouse around 1ish – a very early night by Korean standards!

Thus ended Day One. AKA Day of Consumption. Day Two will follow shortly, and included more culture, and a few more snaps.

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