Travelling to Asia for the first time was definitely a culture shock for me. Katherine had traveled to India and Singapore and Ashley of course had been living in Seoul almost one year now.
Seoul is an interesting city, it is split up into different districts. Katherine and I have hit just about everyone including Gangnam. Seoul is always busy with both the young and old running to get somewhere. I don’t think anyone sleeps here, because you will see people asleep on the train and yes, I have had heads end up on my shoulder. Every district is known for something. Eg. Itaewon (my least favorite) is the international district. Here you will find the most diversity in food, shopping and people. This is also where the US army base is so there are many many bars. Subways are deep underground as they can be used as shelters. The one in Itaewon had the most where I counted over 150 steps plus an escalator that had another 100 or more. I guess possible artillery threats are taken seriously here. Myeongdong is known as a big shopping district, but it is wall to wall people and no shortage of beauty stores, on the same street there will be 6 to 7 stores and sometimes the same store 5 doors down. Namdaemun is a large food market where we bought lunch, yummy kimbap and freshly squeezed fruit juice, we ate these along the Cheonggyecheon stream that was once hidden but now revitalized into a beautiful waterway in the city center. Dongdaemun is a market where you can buy everything from socks to electronics. It is open from 10 am to 5 am ( from 11 pm to 5 am mostly for wholesalers).
During our stay we had a Thanksgiving get together with Ashley’s co-workers. From all over the globe we came together to enjoy good food, and company. The best part was rocking it out at the Noraebang (Kareoke) where, yes, I belted it out to Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack, along with many other songs.
My pet peeves: be prepared to have people cough and sneeze without covering their mouths. Spiting on the floor (it’s not considered rude) pushing, shoving (more so on the trains). All kinds of smells, eg. The ginko tree fruit, when it falls and gets stepped on it smells like vomit.
But when you look past all these things the food is very good (and they love their hot peppers). It’s fresh and just about anything you can think of. Blood sausage, fried fish cakes, fried rice cake skewers, ice cream filled waffles and very yummy egg bread. But of course nothing beats the Korean barbecue. You sit at a table with a built in gas barbecue. Where suddenly your server arrives with a variety of small bowls filled with different condiments such as kimchi. The meat usually pork is then placed on the grill and romaine lettuce is used to create little packages of all these yummy ingredients.
Hiking is another favorite past time that I grudgingly agreed to. Gwanaksan 632 m high was a challenge but in the end we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city and a beautiful temple. The girls continued onto the top, while I sat and enjoyed the serenity and beauty that was around me. Katherine and I also conquered Namsan – where the North Seoul Tower can be found. Again we trudged on to be surprised with a spectacular view of the city but also a Starbucks at the top. Honorable mentions; the War Memorial of Korea. Free admission, beautifully laid out with lots of information regarding the past conflicts including Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The Hanok Villages, the beautiful campus of Ewha Women’s University, picturesque Nami Island.
Although Seoul had much to offer, Kyoto Japan remains my favorite. The combination of old world mixed with modern world, was just the right mix. The Bamboo forest the many temples all unique and beautiful in their own way. Seeing the elusive Geisha was a treat too! Osaka was too crowded and noisy to appreciate. Miyajima was peaceful and picturesque. Fushimi Inari Shrine, where we unexpectedly found ourselves hiking through the many vermilion coloured Torii’s to the 233 meter high Mount Inari.
All in all this trip had taken me out of my comfort zone on more than one occasion: visiting the many palaces while wearing the traditional Hanbok costume and asked on more than one occasion to have my picture taken with the locals, skirting around the crowded neighbourhoods, trying new foods, and my favorite, the claustrophobic subway rides coupled with the many many stairs. (Although the upside to this is my butt got a great work out). Jimillbang is a Korean bath house. I put aside my inhibitions and stripped off all my clothes and proceeded to bathe along with roughly 30 other women including my girls. I wasn’t brave enough to try the massage or scrub down tables but did enjoy the hot and cold baths, my own scrubbing, relaxing rooms and a delicious meal.
But the adventure was well worth it because I experienced it with both my beautiful (inside and out), smart, confident daughters. It also helped relieve my worry about where Ashley was staying and her life there, and I applaud her courage to have this experience.
Lots of love and kamsahamnida,