fredag 14 december 2012

Trip to Seoul: Day 1: Rain and markets

I’m going to tell you of my seven day trip to Seoul, Capital of Korea. It’s work related, but I understand from my visitors statistics that that part mostly interests my closest relatives and friends, so I will not say much on that account than that it has to do with my PhD studies and a long time plan of going here again. I will know more of that next spring/summer. Enough said about that

Privately, then, what meaning does Korea hold for me? Well, I have been following the ”korean wave”, kpop, kdrama, and so on since that day roughly two years ago when I stumbled on Orange Caramel and their music video on Youtube, Magic Girl. Slowly I have branched out to reading about all and everything Korean, as you can see from my blogroll on the left side. As a side note, and as you may already know, the Korean presidential election will be coming to an end the last day of my stay her, the 19th of December. This Thursday it was almost a dead run between the two main candidates and it will be interesting to follow. I have seen some signs on the streets, but nothing extreme as of yet.

I have been preparing for Seoul and Korea specifically by learning to translate Korean letters to Latin (romanizing), which isn’t as complicated as you may think. Rather it is quite easy compared to for example Chinese or even Japanese. They have an easy system where each symbol is a syllable containing a central vocal (sound) surrounded by 0-3 consonants, with a total number of building blocks not much more then what we have in the west. Pronouncing and understanding the, well, that’s quite another matter. I’d say that part is easier than Chinese but harder than Japanese. Here is how “hello” is contructed (that really more formally is said “Annyeong Haseyo”)

I have also printed a number of maps of places I have planned to go to, mainly in relation to subway stations and exits. You can get really good maps at the airport information, but with the Korean Tourist information on the net you can really zoom in so that you can see the exits in detail. Add some arrows and text and you are set to go.

The Hotel. I always see to it that I carefully map the way there, its GPS coordinates, alternative routes, and so on, just to be sure I get there. When you have your room, you have a home base to retreat to if something happens or you just need to recuperate. As it was, some problem with the booking and payment had happened so they needed four hours until it was fixed. Next time I will mail ahead also. Don’t assume sites at home you think is of “world reknown”. In Namibia earlier this year I met teenagers who had never heard of McDonalds. Gives hope to humanity, but also makes it worth to plan ahead. Well anyway, that gave me time to kill, which I jetlagged as I was used to visit quickly three markets and a Harrods-type mall. Let me first just remark that Seoul is *big* and that even its central circle line (no 2, green) takes more than an hour to circle.

Arriving at Incheon I knew everything would be alright ;-)

Tips: Buy a M-Pass at exit 5/10 of the airport for your stay. You can even use it for the regular (not express) train from the airport and all the lines on the subway map, up to 20 rides a day. One week cost 59000 + desposit and small fee = 64500 Won (430 SEK/65 $). They also inlcude some small discounts on stuff like Namsam tower.
The subway system, which I will talk more later days, is fresh and safe, and all of relevance is texted also in latin letters, and spoken in english on the trains, even if you learn to manage even without that rather quickly. They only thing you have to keep being slightly aware of is the obvious going in the right direction. ^_^ As long as you have done your homework and checked your maps beforehand its all right.

Market number 1, Gwangjang. A whole neighborhood stuffed with fabrics and traditional clothing like hanbok and clothing made for usage not style (as in fashion), intersected with corridors of street food.

I bought two "cakes" of something looking like potato fritters which cost almost nothing (2000 Won each ie 14 SEK/2$). You could sit on benches where they cooked, but I was a bit chicken and will have to come back and try the pig feet for example.

Market number two: Myeongdong. Moore of the kind of big city shopping district you would expect. If you love free samples of beaty stuff you would love this. You just enter one of the stores with a saleswomen at the front and she gives you a carrying basket and a free sample. I know men here use lots of stuff like BB samples, and really has nothing against it, but I didn't dare try enter with my non-existant language and make-up skills

Did I say it rained arrows at my arrival? I managed to buy a umbrella at my arrival from a street vendor, and later here at Myeongdong a actually found a place with black tea. Even though it had a faint taste of fish.

Funny hat store

As the Japanese would say: Kawaiii.

"Hats on"

After that I went to the Harrods lookalike Shinsaegae, with luxorious/delicious foodstuff at the ground floor and then luxorious brands five-six stories above, which I found quite uninteresting actually. Why go all the way to Korea for brands I can find at home to roughly thesame price also?

Mushrooms and more mushrooms

Koreans arent at all afraid of meat, with mouthwatering bacon spreads of tasty bacon. And much like it from all kinds of meats and cooking.

Funny thing at many larger stores: umbrella-wrapper. But it in and you get a plastic pretictive shell to stop dripping, which you then throw away when you exit.

Market number 3: Namdaemun. More small street, cheaper stuff and more throngs of people, at least closer packed together. Bought some funny clothes for my two oldest. 

Ginseng roots pickled like vegetables where you then drink the stuff. I saw a young hip guy once sipping from a bottle with a rot and yellow muddy liquid in it. They treasure it somewhat like we treasure whiskey it seems. 
Last and maybe least, the hotel. Alpha Guest House. Close to the Inner Circle Line, No 2, wifi, and safe and warm. All I need in winter.

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