Entering the last week...

Trip Start May 13, 2010
Trip End Aug 02, 2010

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Monday, July 19, 2010

It is strange to think that I have less than five days remaining in Korea.  It has been quite the time -- a busy time, to be sure, but an interesting time as well in so many ways.  Indeed, I had to check back into my entries to check on where I last left you.  It seems...a week ago!

So, I have to think back a bit:  To be honest, after all that initial discussion that last week (at least during the week) proved none too exciting.  We had our standard seminar sessions -- traditional korean clothing, cooking etc... -- and on one evening we were taken on a Han river cruise.  That was on Tuesday evening, and took place after about half the crowd here went down to the National Museum of Korea for most of the afternoon.  The cruise itself did not start until the early evening to time (I did not know it at the time) with the waterfall display off of one of the bridges crossing the river.  It was a bit reminiscent of the High Level bridge display in Edmonton, although considerably more extravagent and colourful.  They had the spray linked to a music display and it was quite neat to see. 

It has been a week not of lecture seminars per se, but of demonstrations.  On Wednesday morning we watched a Tae Kwon Do demonstration and even had a chance to practice a bit.  I was called to the front to break a board and promptly fell flat on my rear -- it was three chances before I managed it.  The guys themselves were fantastic and apparently rated at a six level black belt (most having done the sport for the better part of 15 years).  I am also not convinced that the Korean government may be thinking that there is a lack of females in the country -- based on the oohs and aahs coming from the 100+ 20 to 22 year old female students a number of them wouldn't mind connecting with these guys.  Athletic displays (either in Tae Kwon Do or dance) perhaps look somewhat more impressive compared to the usual couch potato specimens they may experience at home!   Anyway, I am sure it is just an opinion...not fact.

We also had a food seminar on the Thursday afternoon which was, well, not that great (at least the lecture part), but they also had a demonstration of food preparation itself after that...I was just sitting there quietly until I was called up to the front to make a small stir fry (which turned out to be quite good actually).  I think it almost made the day as the lectures/seminars to date have been this side of boring.  In fact, it is one thing that has troubled me about this program -- generally it is great, but so many of the seminars/lectures are so impossibly boring and unprepared that it is no surprise that so many of the students hardly stay awake (I have trouble at times myself).  I wonder what it will be like when the Confucian student-teacher relationship begins to break down further and the students start questioning the lecture delivery.  All I know is that this would not fly at home -- I am surprised it continues here actually...It is not really my place, but it is frustrating to feel that you have wasted so many hours in the day on something that...well, you could read yourself (in one case, the professor simply did just read from a text book almost verbatim).

Oh well, Thursday saw the last of our lectures, and Friday we finished off the week with a sports day involving all the students (and instructors/staff) split into two teams.  The weather was not overly favourable, so outdoor events were limited but it was a pretty good time I think.  A few games I had not heard of, a couple of which were not even that bad!

The weekend was my break -- I was determined to get out from under the clutches of the curfew that I have been living under here since I arrived.  Getting through the gates by 11:00pm means leaving downtown by say 10:00pm -- it also means that I do not get to see too much of the night life in town (and by this I mean simply walking the streets a bit, people watching, checking out the street vendors for what food is on offer etc...).  I was always told that the streets come alive in Seoul after 10pm, but I had no proof at all!

So, I booked a hotel in Itaewon which is mostly a foreign area (near the US army base) and, to be honest, isn't my favourite part of town.  However, the hotel was relatively inexpensive and, more importantly, available!  So, I grabbed it...and on Friday afternoon I headed down...first to check in, then to meet my friend for dinner in Junggak -- a more interesting part of town.  And dinner was certainly an interesting aspect of the evening -- he asked if I like octopus and I said sure as I have certainly had it before.  We went to a place, had the frying pan on the table with vegetables, meats etc...and then came in the octopus.  Two medium sized ones and all looked normal until they were dumped on the hot pan and started moving around.  Tentacles going through all the food -- I couldn't help but just watch (my friend asked what was wrong!).  Eventually, they settled down a bit, and the waitress came over and started cutting them into pieces, leaving the heads aside (as did we for the entire meal -- kinda looked uninviting).

The hotel was quite good, all things considered.  It had a bidet as a toilet (which takes some getting used to -- to be frank, this style of toilet seems quite common in Korea as I have run across them quite often in hotels).  They had a light sensor which turned on when you moved towards the bathroom (smart!), and a waterfall fountain in the sink.  The view was not too bad.  Apparently it was updated last year and looks pretty good -- it was certainly a lot more comfortable than my dorm at the uni.  And, it was nice just to watch a bit of TV!  Sad, eh?

I went back to my place and hung out there for a bit watching a movie because it had started to rain quite heavily and going out seemed..well, silly.  However, by midnight I was getting a bit annoyed with myself.  Geez, I was downtown, paying a bit for the hotel...surely, I should check out the night scene.  So, I went up to the clubbing area and was pulled into one of the bars where I had a coke (yeah...boring).  And it was boring, so I ended up crossing the street to another dance club where I hung out for a bit.  I did some writing:  "What can I aw, I am in a club that is decidedly young.  How long do I need to stay to justify my entry cost?  I already have my free drink!  So much cigerette smoke.  I think I will get sick!  Probably will not last much longer"  And that was at 2am!  I did eventually push myself a bit...got a drink, did some dancing (being at a club solo sucks) and eventually a bunch of people brought me into their group so I stuck around until closing (5am!).  Went home, and slept until 10 am.

On Saturday, it was raining all day so I was slow getting ready, watched a movie, read the news etc... online and eventually took the subway to the big COEX mall on the south side of the Han river.  Ostensibly there to have lunch and check out the bookstore (which I did do -- the text book prices are incredibly cheap:  $30 vs $150 at home...I couldn't help but buy at least one) but also managed to get lost a few times before the mall bored me and I left (it didn't take too long, although I did examine the food court menus for almost half an hour before deciding on something).  I left the mall and walked to the the Olympic stadium to catch a subway back to the hotel for a bit of a breather before heading out again that night.

I have chatted with a friend of mine online for almost five years I think but have never met.  Coincidently, he is in Seoul now, although we have not had a chance to connect during my time here.  Tonight, I was going to meet him at the club with a group of his friends -- was good.  Just chatted and then he headed home at around 2 and I met up with the group I met from the previous night at a Suji bar down the street until 5:30am...and then an after hours club.  Crazy, eh?  I had check out at 11am the next morning too!  Oh well...it was all fun.

Often when you travel, you are enticed to visit all the must see spots.  To be honest, hanging out with a group of Koreans having a drink and a small meal -- chatting (even involving a neighbouring table who had someone recently back from Canada to help with the translation) -- is one of the best reasons I can give for traveling.  I am not that outgoing generally and it is certainly not my skill to deliberately make contact with anyone, but hanging out with groups of people can be quite fun when it works out.

Sunday was a bit of catch up with sleep.  Met up with my colleagues from the university for lunch, then headed back to the Uni to drop off my luggage.  Turned around after an hour rest to meet my friend in Myeungdong for dinner and a trip up the Seoul tower at night. 

Some things about Seoul that you may find interesting:

AMEX gave me a discount on a nice Korean BBQ dinner (10%)
Taxis do not pay toll when traveling through tunnels (and are cheap anyway)
Drinks cost as much as in Canada
Mak Kor ri is drunk from a bowl (an odd first experience -- it appears milky and I thought it was soup)
The transit cards (T-card) can be used in taxis and convenience stores (like Hong Kong etc..) -- I am getting to know and love the local 7-11s and Family Marts
Umbrella bags are on offer at almost every restaurant -- What a waste of plastic!
Plastic rain coats are available for cheap -- What a waste of plastic!



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