My time in Seoul with the Seoulites

Trip Start Sep 24, 2006
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Trip End Sep 01, 2007


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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Yes people who live in Seoul are called 'Seoulites' which I find funny but then I guess it's better than Seoulfuls or Seoulsons!  It has been a marvellous time, and every tourist you meet will say Seoul, and Korea, are hidden gems, off the tourist radar, yet providing lots of tourist attractions, street signs and brochures etc in English as well and all students start English in first grade.  In addition, Koreans realize that English is the language of travel and business and so adults are keen to learn like crazy. Lots of job opportunities for teaching at both School and College/University level.  There are 4 seasons here; winters apparently can get down to -20 with snow, skiing is a big winter sport and 70% of Korea is covered with mountains so have ski resorts for their 48 million people, 22 million living in Seoul!  THere is a new marketing campaign out now touting Korea as 'The Soul of Asia" a phrase which does not bring Korea immediately to mind, so I think it should read 'The Seoul of Asia" at least a quirky play on words to grab attention....
Have met/been helped by lots of fabulous people - starting with 'Patrick" the English name (all students and those who have studied abroad have 'English' names which may or may not have any relevance to their Korean names) of a young Korean who helped me at the train station sort out, by asking the taxi drivers, where I should be standing for a taxi, according to where I was headed.  He had spent time in Canada learning English (many of those who approach me to help me or just to strike up a conversation spent time in Canada, US, Aust or England (in that order, by the way).  'Sophie' helped me at the Post Office when I was trying to inquire about a courier service to send photos back to Canada. SHe had studied in Canada as well, and she left me her cell number in case I need her help when I do send my photos!  Another young woman helped me in the subway find my exit; she also had studied in Canada (Vancouver) as did a young woman at the Visitors' Centre in Insadong area near me. Although she took jewellry making at College (in Canada!) she was volunteering at the Center so she could practice her English. THe Centre provided free internet, printing and photocopying so was great as I had to do all 3.
THen I met Jeff and Kate from Tucson when I went to the Namsandok where there are 6 traditional royal houses with fully furnished interiors, a rarity.  She is Korean but has lived in the US for many years but and we ended up going for lunch together and then to Seoul Tower which offers a panoramic view of Seoul
The next day I met Zahara, when I was at Unyheongong palace.  I was  being toured around by the lady would worked the ticket office, who had visited Canada and again, wanted to practice English. Zahara was in one of the display areas, and the tour lady asked her where she was from and she said Canada so we started talking. She teaches English here, we watched a 'pansori' (traditional narrative solo singing using stories and body language;only 6 narratives are still sung) performance at the Palace and then made plans to get together later in the week. We met up on Sat. and she brought Daniel, another English teacher from Toronto and Mimi, a Korean who used to work for the school at which Zahara teaches children.  We toured Deoksugung Palace and watched the 'Royal Guards Rotation Ceremony' at Daehanmun Gate at the Palace and walked, passing a mass protest march, which apparently are very common here - this one was a staged by a coalition of civic groups opposing the free trade agreement between Korea and the US and they wree calling for an annulment of it and also on our way we saw a memorial ceremony for the death to Huh Se-wook, who died during an anti-FTA demonstration in April -  to the Boshingak Bell and had a look at that. Then we went to a 'Hof' where they sell beer, 'whisky' and food.
On Sat. before I met up with Zahara, while I was enroute to the Tourist Center in Insadong, For the 2nd time in Seoul,I was approached by a group of girls in school uniforms who run an English language school newspaper. They wanted to 'interview' me to practice their English, so I got hte usual questions, name, where from, what do you like about Seoul, what should Seoul do better etc. As I wasn't in any hurry, I spoke at length to answer, as they were filming and taping me, to hear my accent so I thought a yes or no not appropriate! They gave me a little gift of plum jelly and were a delightful group - and amazed that I am travelling alone!
On Wednesday I met Neil Swain, Trade Commissioner, Canadian Embassy here, for lunch. I had met him in Edmonton at the Investment Officials meeting attended by Trade Commissioners from all over the world. He gave me his card at the time and so I have kept in contact with him while I was planning my trip to Korea.  He is moving back to Canada in July, with his Canadian wife, who he met here, and his 2 children who were born here. He has been here for 10 years, started out teaching English, went back to Canada, came back to Korea and took his Master's Degree, then was hired by Govnt of Canada Foreign Affairs and posted here. He is fluent in Korean.  We went to a lovely Korean restaurant near the Embassy right downtown, and had Dolsot Bibimbap,  which is traditional 'temple food' served in a hot stone pot, with hot pepper sauce, rice, wild greens and herbs, and for good measure, a raw egg on top which you stir in fast so it cooks before you eat it.  Another dish I like it gimchi (like Japanese suishi, rice around meat/veg and rolled in seaweed), mandu, which are like CHinese dumplings, and dakgalbi, chicken and veg fried/baked with hot pepper sauce. That about does it for my affinity or taste for Korean food!  
Also spent some time at the 7th Annual European Union Film Festival, after a long day of sightseeing, good to sit down and chill out watching a movie. On right now is a Film retrospective, of Orson Welles movies.  These film showings take place at the www.cinematheque.seoul.kr or better know as the Seoul Arts Cinema, just a few blocks away from where I am staying at 'Yim's House"  www.seoulbusinesshotel.com, a couple of doors away from the Korea Hostel I tried to stay in.
Wanted to say something about the subways. One has to walk a long way underground to get to the tracks, several floors to change lines during a trip and  a long way to get out and usually no escalators. Very cumbersome, not like Thailand. There I have said it!
On Sun. I went on a bus tour of the Demilitarized Zone, about 50 km north of SEoul. http://www.dmz.ne.kr/eng/History/h2.htm.  We went up the tower, and could actually see North Korean labourers in their rice fields, toured Exhibition hall, which provides details of the 4 tunnels built by the N. Koreans that have been uncovered under the DMZ, an 8 km zone where no development can take place, there are still land mines, and the flora, fauna and animals there are found no where else in Korea, so is a very special place. Also went to the train station from which the historic train that went to North Korea May 17, 2007 went. The bus dropped people off at Itaewon, near the 27,000 troops of the US Army base, which older Koreans want to stay, younger ones, without memory of the war, wants to leave.  Jeff and Kate recommended I try a traditional Korean sauna so I knew the Hamilton Hotel had one, so I partook.  $5 gets you a towel and into the hot tub, $20 unbeknownst to me, get you a total loofah scrub down by a lady in her underwear. She grabbed my hand while I was still in the hot tub and said 'clean, clean' and took me to an open atrium upstairs overlooking the hot tub (everyone is naked - woman and men segregated) and she pointed at a price list which said ' cleaning' 000 won.  SO since it was no charge, I thought good deal and proceeded to have a total scrub plus hair wash.  I thought all for 5000 won (Korea is a very expensive place).  Turns out the 20 is just missing from the ,000 on the price list so I had to pay the lady at the cashier downstairs, who had been informed I owed that.  I also had a sports massage, as I am used to having massages every other day in THailand for $3.  Here is it more like $40. 
  Yesterday, Monday,  I went on an hour boat ride on the Han RIver, although not a very clear thing, a relaxing thing to do, especially after taking the usual ardouls subway ride and then walking around in circles trying to find where the boat terminal was.   There were only about 8 people on the boat which can hold up to 100 people - the steward spoke English and made balloon shapes for the 3 kids on board (3 of the 8 were kids) and then he sat behind me and made me a flower balloon, and brought me a glass of Chai, traditional Korean rice drink. He told me he also does the singing for the nightly musical tours, what a talented person...  The ferry port is on Yeouida, a man made island, which has a 63 story office tower/shopping centre and an IMAX theatre.  GUess what they are playing at IMAX?  A movie about what appears to be Nunavut and which is advertised in the mall by a huge cardboard stand up display, complete with 4 video screens running scenes from the movie, complete with dog sled rides, aurora borealis, Inuit in traditional clothing. I took a pic of it and got the brochure.  THe finding of diamonds in the NWT was also on the Discovery Channel last week, which followed the show "Really Big Things' which featured the big earth movers at Ekati diamond min! So 2 back to back tv shows I watched here about The NWT, it was a sign.....  
Today I am mailing my packages and then going to the National Museum. It is very big and so I will only concentrate on the exhibits relating to the similarites between and among the Asian cultures of CHina, Indonesia, Japan. etc.  I have seen enough Buddha artifacts and statues and Palaces so I can skip that part.
AFter 5 months in Asia, I am leaving tomorrow for Sydney, Australia, where after 8 months of travelling, I will hear English as the main language. Not looking forward to that, as I enjoy not being tempted to listen, or hear, what everyone is saying on their cell phones ..... I can tune out very well here as it is all 'white noise'. Anyway that is the plan, and I am very excited to meet up with Anita from Ireland, who I met at Yoga Thailand, before she heads home. Unfortunately we'll only have one day.  Jum, the person I met at the Australian film festival in Bangkok, is currently in Aust. (Melbourne) on business so we are planning to meet up there before she leaves on June 17.
So I leave tomorrow night at 8 p.m. and arrive in Sydney at 7 a.m. I believe the trip takes 10 hours.  Zahara and I are meeting up tomorrow during the day before I have to head to airport.


 
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