* We left our camera at Camp Humprheys over the weekend so pics will follow in a later post.*
We had off this past Friday in preparation for the Lunar New Year or Seollal as the Koreans call it. So on Friday Ally and I went to Suwon to do some shopping and walking around. Suwon is about 30 minutes north of Songtan and has a huge mall at the train station. Suwon is a large city where a lot of colleges are located so there is the constant hustle and bustle of young people and lots of shops, restaurants and bars. We had Dak Galbi for lunch which is a large sizzling wok of cabbage, chicken (dak), rice and Korean rice cakes (which taste a bit like gnocchi). It was very delicious and for $12 for two people you couldn’t beat it. They even give you little aprons to wear so the sizzling pot in the middle of your table doesn’t splatter on your clothes. How sweet!
We went out in Anjung-ri (Camp Humphreys) on Friday night with Joe’s co-workers and found ourselves slightly hungover Saturday morning so unfortunately Joe and I didn’t start our trip until about noon. We ended up taking the KTX Speed train from Pyeongtaek station because the Camp Humphreys bus to Seoul was all sold out. It was a great choice though, assigned seats, tons of leg room and super fast, we made it to Seoul in about an hour.
Once we arrived in Seoul, we quickly realized it wasn’t going to be as easy to navigate around the city as we were used to in Europe. High School French and college level Spanish allowed me to comprehend European train directions and cities but Hangul still looks like scribbles to me. Even though Seoul’s train signs are also written in English everything ends in -dong, -san or -won. We were staying at the Dragon Hill Lodge, Yongsan Army Base’s attempt at a 4 star hotel. After a failed attempt to take the subway to Yongsan, a suburb of Seoul but not where Yongsan Army Base is located we decided to try another train to Itaewon. Joe knew, from a few trips to Yongsan, that the Army Base is located just outside Itaewon, a highly Americanized and commercialized tourist district. I guess we looked as lost as we felt because a nice guy from North Carolina, teaching in Incheon, visiting Seoul for the day, befriended us and sent us in the right direction, thanks Will.
Dragon Hill Lodge looks nice from the outside, and even nicer from the inside, but it’s all about appearances. The atmosphere was that of a 4 star hotel, the clientele, however was that of a Motel 6. We will be staying elsewhere on our next trip to Seoul. We had some dinner at the hotel and then took a cab to Dongdaemun Market, a large shopping disctrict on the other side of the city. We had no idea the expanse of the shopping at Dongdaemun, there are probably a dozen 12-story malls surrounding Dongdaemun Stadium. We only made it to two before giving up. Some of the vendors were closed due to the holiday weekend but I did my best to wear Joe out by dragging him from floor to floor looking for things. Koreans are tiny people, I told Joe it feels like we live in the Land of the Little People. One coat vendor I stopped at took one look at me and said “mmm, busty.” She then proceeded to hand me two coats that I could actually button up. I bought one for $50, haggling her down from $85. Every other stall I stopped at, I perused the racks of cute little tops and dresses while Joe, obviously bored and irritated would repeatedly say, “that’s not going to fit you Busty.”
Sunday was a beautiful day so we decided to take the Seoul City Tour Bus. For $10 per person you can take an all-day bus tour where you can hop on and off the bus at 27 different locations. The buses stop at each place every 30 minutes, just enough time for me to drag Joe to about 12 shops. We stopped at Myung Dong, the shopping and banking center of Seoul and walked around the shops for a while. Myung Dong looks a bit like an Asian version of the Blvd. Ste. Michel area in Paris, only dirtier and less European, but with just as many Starbucks. After Myung Dong was the Seoul City Tower which is 480 meters above sea level and perched atop a huge hill in Seoul. The views from the top were amazing although there was quite a lot of hazy smog despite the sun and warmth. The bus drives past all of Seoul’s beautiful palaces although we didn’t stop to see them this time. We will take the Seoul City Palace Tour next time, this weekend the palaces were super crowded with the New Year festivities. Next came Insadong, the “Soho of Seoul.”. Streets and alleys lined with tiny handicraft shops, tea rooms, restaurants and street vendors. We bought some beautiful Korean pillow covers and placemats for the apartment and got back on the bus. Around dinner time we arrived back at Itaewon and met up with some of Joe’s co-workers, that had come to Seoul for the weekend also, for dinner and drinks.
Monday we did a little more shopping in Itaewon. Shopping here is so cheap and they have great fashion. Nobody thinks of Koreans as being fashionable, they think of Europeans, New Yorkers and maybe the Japanese but Koreans are just as trend-setting. I couldn’t believe the deals, on Sunday I got a pair of ballet flats for 9,800 Won or $10 so on Monday I went back to the store for 4 more pairs and found out all their shoes were that cheap. I ended up with two pairs of heels, and three pairs of ballet flats for $50, two coats for $50 each, a purse made of traditional Korean fabric for $5, 2 pillow covers for $11 and a placemat/napkin set for 6 people for $8. Ridiculous! After all that shopping we headed back to Songtan around 5 PM. We were exhausted by the time we got home and just had some Kimbap takeout for dinner and watched Heroes and Survivor from last week. It was a great holiday weekend, I can’t wait to go back to Seoul for more sightseeing and culture, maybe with a little shopping thrown in.