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Exploring the Other Side of Seoul, or Walking, Walking, Walking

On Monday we rode the subway a lot. It was pretty cheap, about a dollar to go anywhere in the city. I had not used public transport very much before I came to Korea, so it was interesting to me.

The subway was clean though very crowded. Apparently more than 90,000 people pass through Seoul Station every day! It is much faster than driving, I think, despite the number of passengers. The traffic in Seoul is terrible.

Kelly and I decided to cross the river to check out that side of Seoul. It was fun just wandering around. Seoul’s buildings have some really cool architecture and there was a nice greenbelt bordering the river. The river itself looked kind of dirty, but there were fish leaping out of it and we even saw someone waterskiing!

We also ran across the Olympic stadium from when Seoul hosted the summer Olympics in 1988. After spending a summer in Korea, I honestly have to ask what they were thinking. I like Korea, but the summer is so hot and humid that I feel gross just sitting outside, much less exercising!

Anyway, we were overheating, so we walked over to Coex, the largest underground mall in Asia. It was HUGE! And mazelike! It was easy to get trapped into walking the same small loop, until you notice a small hallway between a couple of stores, which leads you to another area, and then another, and another.

Our first mission, however, was to find a good bibimbap restaurant for one last taste before we went back to American food.

After that, we wandered. We each bought a few gifts and souvenirs, but for the most part we just looked at everything. Just doing a rough count off of the map, there were over 200 stores! Plus a theater, an aquarium, and a ten story department store.

There were also a lot of cutesy accessory and notebook stores. I love how cheerful the Korean accessories are. For example, here is a sign that gives a taste of what was on all the actual merchandise:

We also found this card, which I can’t imagine anyone actually sending.

It’s nice to reassure people about their appearance, but a card? The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

We also searched for a place to get bingsu one last time. We looked all through the mall, but all of the bing su places there were relatively expensive. We finally settled for the cheapest one, ate, and left the mall. Of course, right after we walked out into the sun, we passed three cheaper bingsu places in a row. Irony?

Next we took the subway to the Itaewon. This is a district bordering a US Army base and is famous for having foreigners. It is basically like a foreign-town in Korea, similar to the idea of a Chinatown in the US. On our way, we passed the War Memorial of Korea, so we stopped by there. It was Monday, so the museum itself was closed, but we could see the outdoor exhibits. They had a lot of military planes, tanks, boats, and weapons.

The outdoor halls were filled with rows of tablets covered with the names of fallen soldiers. I hope those lists weren’t just from the Korean War…
There were also flags from every nation that allied with South Korea during that war. There were a lot more diverse countries than I expected.

Once in Itaewon, we looked for Damotori Heeut, a semi-famous makgeolli bar. We wanted to go in the evening, but we wanted to find it first. Let me tell you, it was a good thing that we looked early. We wandered down narrow side streets for almost an hour trying to find it. We asked some people for directions, but most of the people we asked had not even heard of the place. Finally, an English speaking foreigner asked us what we were looking for and helped us look, and, eventually, we found it. We had passed the storefront only 15 minutes into our search, but the address implied that we still had a couple blocks to go, so we hadn’t even looked up!

Anyway, we still had an hour to kill before the place opened, so we went and found dinner. Once again we tried to order Korean barbeque, but I guess we misunderstood the menu because we ended up with something else. It was still good, but not what we were expecting. I think I’ve included a lot of food photos, so instead of our meal, here is a picture of the neighborhood.

After dinner, we walked around to kill time until we could go to the bar. I saw a big hill and said that we had to go to the top before we turned around since e had a running joke that every set of stairs or steep place we climbed meant more space in our stomachs for Korean food but then Kelly said we had to run to the top! Let me tell you, all this walking really does a number on your feet.

Then we backtracked to Damotori Heeut. We ordered some potato pancakes and then got down to the whole reason we had gone to so much trouble to find this place: For slightly less than US$2, you could get a sample tray of 5 different makgeollis. With over 50 types to choose from, we ended up trying 10. There was a booklet with all of the choices, but the English version had been stolen. All we could really understand from the Korean version was where each type came from, the strength, and sometimes we could piece together a few other words we knew. I still enjoyed trying all of these different types, and for so cheap, too!

After we finished we didn’t have time left to make our way to the more central part of Itaewon before sunset. We had heard that the whole area is pretty sketchy after dark, and I believe it, but it was fun to visit during the day. One funny thing we say was this grocery store sign, where they actually corrected the spelling with a caret!

Our next stop was N Seoul Tower. It is located on the top of small mountain in the middle of Seoul. Kelly had won two free tickets to get in the tower from a free website lottery, but that did not include the price of taking the tram up to the base of the tower. Being the cheapskates that we are, Kelly and I took the stairs instead. It only took twenty minutes, but straight up hill. We saved about US$8, and we also passed a stand selling sikhye, a cold, sweet, refreshing rice drink for cheap.

However, we were sweating in a really disgusting way when we made it to the top. I at least had actual drops of sweat running down my face. First stop was wiping off my face in the restroom. Once we felt slightly less disgusting, we made our way to the top of the tower. The view was incredible!

There was also a post office at the top. Kelly had brought some cards with her, so she wrote some friends from the highest post office in Korea. While she was occupied, I wandered around looking at the view. There were also signs posted stating the distance from Seoul to other cities. Anchorage, Alaska was 6,074.45 km away, while Los Angeles, U.S.A was 9,596.52 km away. So why did I have to fly from Seoul to LA to Anchorage? It’s an extra 3,500 km just getting to LA, plus 3767 km back up to Anchorage! Altogether, that’s over twice the distance, but I’m pretty sure I still saved money. I wish I had investigated more to see if there were any direct flights to Alaska. And also, why were all the other US cities listed as Blank, USA, while my hometown is Anchorage, Alaska? Since when was AK not part of the USA!?
At the base of the tower, there was an observation deck where lovers could attach locks to the railing together to symbolize locking their endless love. There were so many!

Anyway, we eventually hiked back to the subway station, stopping for ice cream on the way, and made our way back to Guesthouse Korea. However, the night wasn’t over yet! We dropped off our purchases , looked up the subway hours and directions, and headed off to the night markets.

We had gone briefly when we came to Seoul on the GIST trip, but this time we were able to look longer. I can’t believe how crowded the malls and streets were at midnight on a weeknight. It was incredible.

Kelly was able to find an extra bag to use as a second suitcase and I bought a nice watch. It wasn’t too expensive and it was the first watch I’ve found that I think is comfortable.

Once we finished, the subway had closed, so we had to walk back to Guesthouse Korea. I was so glad we were together; I would not have wanted to walk back alone. We stuck to the main roads, but it was still pretty dark and there were a lot of alleyways branching off into blackness. Fortunately, we were walking down a road that had the river-park running down the middle, so we walked on the sidewalk just above the river. With a cliff on one side and a three-lane road on the other, we were pretty confidant no one could sneak up on us.

Partway through we reached a coffee shop that was still open, so we ordered a gelato waffle. It was very delicious.

Soon after that we made it to the brightly lit bar-and-restaurant area near the guesthouse, so we stopped in a restaurant and ordered chicken. It was similar to the sesame chicken you can get at American Chinese restaurants, but so much better.

Finally, after a long, long day of sweating, stairs, eating, and walking (SO MUCH WALKING), we showered and rested up for our last day in Korea.

Carly Bond