Jamie Sinz in South Korea

National Holiday in Seoul

October 9, 2009 by Jamie

Seoul

Seoul

For the Chinese National Holiday, Nik and I both had a week off of work, so we skipped town and headed to Seoul, South Korea. I know, I just went there two months ago….but I loved it and couldn’t wait for Nik to see it too. Plus, flights to Seoul are cheaper than any other east-Asian destination outside of China, and I am still on a 90-day visa so I had to leave. Also, neither of us had the time or energy to research a new country enough to make our visit worthwhile and relaxing, so Seoul it was.

I have already written about my view of Seoul in 5 previous posts, so I won’t bore you again. I do want to link to the new blog posts Nik has written and share a few of his photos (my camera is broken) of parts of Seoul that we experienced for the first time together. As I expected, every part of the city was better with him holding my hand.

Day 1: Walking Around Bukchon

Little Door

Her Little Door

His Little Door

His Little Door

Day 2: Namsan Tower and Cheong Gye Cheon

Garden Spider

Garden Spider

Our Lock of Love just two months later

Our Lock of Love just two months later

Us

Us

Cheong Gye Cheon

Cheong Gye Cheon

Day 3: Climbing Mt. Bukhansan

Trail of Hikers

Trail of Hikers

Picnic Area

Picnic Area

Dinner and Beer

Dinner and Beer

Day 4: Ferry Ride

Butterfly

Butterfly

Nik

Nik

Lotte Worlds Magic Island

Lotte World's Magic Island

Day 5: A Day of Rest

Jewelry Shopping

Jewelry Shopping

A Kimchi stew restaurant near a Bus 171 stop

A Kimchi stew restaurant near a Bus 171 stop

Day 6: Metal and Ginseng

Metal Shops near Mullae Station

Metal Shops near Mullae Station

Man working with wires

Man working with wires

Herbs and Spices at Gyeongdong Market

Herbs and Spices at Gyeongdong Market

Roasted Chestnuts

Roasted Chestnuts

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Seoul Day 5: Kwangjang Shijang & Namsan Tower

August 5, 2009 by Jamie

View of Seoul from the base of Namsan Tower

View of Seoul in front of our Lock

On my final day in Seoul I wanted to have at least one more unique meal and I wanted to stand at the top of the Namsan Tower with the best possible view of the city. To find my meal I headed to Kwangjang Shijang just before lunch time expecting to find a bustling marketplace filled with food, clothing, electronics, and who knows what else.

Kwangjang Shijang on Sunday

Kwangjang Shijang on Sunday

Traditional Korean Dress

Hanbok (literally, Korean Clothing)

Unfortunately, it was Sunday, and the market was anything but bustling. There were a few shops open and several of the food stalls were doing great business, so I chose to feast on a Korean pancake made with a corn batter mixed with onions and peppers and then deep fried to crispy perfection.

Various ingredients prepared to serve

Various deep fried snacks

My pancake

My pancake

Ladies making deep-fried goodness

Ladies making deep-fried goodness

After eating only half of my lunch, I was stuffed and had to move around. I wasn’t in a wandering mood, so I took the subway directly to my next destination, Namsan Park and ultimately the Namsan Tower (or N Seoul Tower).

The Namsan Tower Cable Car

The Namsan Tower Cable Car

If I had to do it again, I would not take the cable car up the hill. The line was long, the ticket cost as much as the tower admission itself (7,000₩), we were packed in like sardines, there was no fan or air conditioning in the cabin, and the view wasn’t any better or different than the view at the top. Instead, I would take a bus, walk up the stairs or take a taxi.

As the crowd of people filed out of the cable car and towards the tower, we walked into a sword fighting performance mid stream. The performance was pretty neat and I sat and watched the choreographed moves for a while. It was my one touristy day of the trip, and I wasn’t going to miss a thing!!!

Sword fighters

An impressive backbend while sword fighting

The movement of traditional dress

The movement of traditional dress

Waiting for his turn to perform

Waiting for his turn to perform

As the crowd dispersed after the performance I scoped out the best spot to hang Nik and I’s “lock of love”. I wanted it to be in the spot with the best view of the city, but it was so foggy and cloudy that I could hardly tell what was a good view. I finally decided on the right hand side of the ramped deck looking to the left of the radio tower (the photo at the top is the view standing right in front of our lock, the one below is not). On one side, our lock has a red and white Ox signifying 2009, the Chinese Year of the Ox because we are spending most of this year in China. On the under side, it simply has our names and date. I have attempted to weatherproof it by wrapping it in clear tape, but I doubt that it will work!!!

Locks for love

Locks for love

2009 - The year of the Ox

2009 - The year of the Ox

Nik + Jamie, America, 2009AD

Nik + Jamie, America, 2009AD

Then I hung around and waited for the monsoon rain to come and take the clouds away so that I could have an amazing view of the city. As entertainment, a man named Rafeal sang Spanish songs and played several wooden flutes. I enjoyed the music, and from what I could tell, so did everyone else!

The crowd surrounding Rafael

The crowd surrounding Rafael

Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter

4 kids + Popcorn

4 kids + Popcorn

I think he was bored

I think he was bored

The Cold Stone Greeter

The Cold Stone Greeter

Couple #1

Couple #1

Couple #2

Couple #2

Couple #3

Couple #3

Ultimately, the monsoon rain never came to sweep the clouds away and I started getting bored around 5pm. I was tempted to stay until nightfall to see the city lights, but that would take at least two more hours and I didn’t think I had the patience.

And seeing all of these couples was making me homesick, so I knew it was time to turn in for the night!

Couple #4....watching broadcast TV on the subway??

Couple #4....watching broadcast TV on the subway??

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Seoul Day 4: Bukchon & Samcheongdong

by Jamie

Traditional Hanok style house

Traditional Hanok style house

Day 4 began with rain and ended with me being completely smitten with this town. I spent the entire afternoon wandering up and down the lanes of Bukchon between eating meals, drinking coffee and indulging in desert in Samcheongdong. These neighborhoods contain several clusters of traditional “hanoks” in the midst of more modern concrete structures. A hanok is a traditional Korean style courtyard house whose design is based on the Korean equivalent to “feng shui”. Materials, proportions, orientation and function are all considered and utilized to create the most pleasant living environment possible.

My starting point was the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center on Gyedong-gil alleyway where I picked up a beautiful map of the area illustrating all of the cultural sites and each individual hanok. From there I simply wandered around until I got hungry. I took a lot more photos than the ones here, but the sky was so bright that most of them were blasted out. Also, these streets are extremely narrow and I don’t have a wide-angle lens, so it was hard to capture the feeling of the place.

Lane filled with potted plants

Lane filled with potted plants

Red Poppies

Red Poppies

Mrs. Kilburne at her house

Mrs. Kilburne at her house

Old and New

Old and New

Hanok

Hanok

Brick Detail

Brick Detail

Gutter

Gutter

Then I went over to Samcheongdong which is a small district to the west of Bukchon that reminded me very much of NW 23rd Avenue in Portland. It was filled with clothing boutiques, restaurants, and fashionable people. Luckily, I had combed Anna’s favorite restaurants flickr photos (of the blog Annamatic) and learned of a couple restaurants to try. One that peaked my interest was a shop serving the traditional Korean porridge called patjuk. Patjuk is a red bean soup made with azuki beans and is often eaten during the winter, but I thought it was quite delicious in late July as well! My bowl contained the soup along with a glutenous rice ball, roasted chestnuts, cinnamon, a green bean of some sort and another black bean of some sort.

My lunch stop

The best Patjuk in town!

Patjuk - Red Bean Porridge

Patjuk - Red Bean Porridge

As I walked down the main street of Samcheongdong, I was blown away with the number of places touting coffee! There were “coffee & waffle” or “cofee & ice cream” or “coffee & wine” or “coffee & bread” or even “coffee & beer” shops on every single corner. I found it a bit ridiculous, but I did have to indulge in the atmosphere a little bit. It is shallow of me to admit this, but I chose my coffee and dessert stops based solely on the decor.

Coffee | Waffle

Coffee & Waffle

After lunch, Chong Lee drew me in. I fell for it when I saw their “bar stools”. I thought it was clever, so I had a siphoned ice coffee.

Bar Stools at Cafe Chen

Bar Stools at Chong Lee

Syphened Iced Coffee

Siphoned Iced Coffee

Coffee Syphens

Coffee Siphons

Then after dinner, I stopped by Lamb, an adorable little desert shop with a second floor seating area that has huge hinged windows. The interior was done in all white and dark wood and has just the right amount of softness without seeming girly. And they had an ice cream sundae on their menu, so I was sold. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at the price tag. It ended up being 13,000₩ ($10.80), which is pretty steep but was worth every penny. It was the best ice cream sundae I’ve ever tasted.

Lamb Storefront

Lamb Storefront

The Best Ice Cream Sundae EVER

The Best Ice Cream Sundae EVER

Lamb Coffee & Dessert Shop

Lamb Coffee & Dessert Shop

To walk off the extra calories, I meandered through Bukchon a little bit more after dessert. I enjoyed seeing the little alleyways lit only by the occasional street lamp. The textures popped even more than they did during the day.

Street Light

Street Light

Street at night

Street at night

Street landscape

Street landscape

Finally, I made it back to room #306 and was really missing Nik. This is the longest solo trip I have ever taken and while I enjoyed every second of it, there were plenty of times where it would have been more fun if he had been there.

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Seoul Day 3: Bukhansan National Park

by Jamie

Baekundae Peak

Baekundae Peak

As soon as I decided that I was going to take this trip, I knew that I would have to do some hiking. Seventy percent of South Korea’s landmass is mountainous, and the national parks are said to be amazing. At first, I thought I would take a train or bus further inland to hike in the higher ranges, but after spending two days in the city, I knew that the language barrier would make it quite difficult to take a trip like that alone. Instead, I decided to take city bus #704 about 20 kilometers outside of the city to Bukhansan National Park.

I intentionally made the trek on Friday because many Koreans are avid hikers, and on the weekends (Sunday in particular) the popular trails are swarmed to the point that hikers are climbing single file for several kilometers. Naively, I expected to be the only one on bus #704 heading to the mountains to spend a day in nature. By the time we reached the Bukhansan stop around 10:30am, there were ten middle aged men and women in full hiking gear that joined me as well as a few teenagers in shorts and tank tops.

To get to the National Park, you walk up an awkward area under construction and through a retail neighborhood filled with shops dedicated to hiking gear. It reminded me of the ski villages in Veil, Colorado, just not as cold. Food vendors also lined the streets selling ramen, fruit, Pacari Sweat (similar to Gatorade), frozen water bottles and energy bars. I stocked my bag with water and energy bars, but was worried that I didn’t have enough food. So I stopped and bought more energy bars and some peanuts.

Bukhansan National Park Entrance

Welcome to Bukhansan National Park

At the entrance to the park, a ranger stopped most people as the walked through. I thought they were paying the entrance fee, but it turns out that there wasn’t one. As I walked through I asked for a map, and at first the ranger gave me a booklet about all of the National Parks because it was in English. I pushed for a map, even if it was in Korean, and was handed a small one showing the various hiking trails of the park. She pointed to the route to Baekundae Peak and said it should take two hours. I said thanks, and was on my way.

A family picnic on the stream

A family picnic on the stream

The first part of the trail was really confusing. It was a weird area filled with restaurants with outdoor tables and bamboo platforms by a creek, and occasionally there was a brown sign pointing to a hiking trail. It was unclear if you were supposed to walk through the dining area or stay on the road. Eventually I made it into the forest and onto a clearly marked hiking trail….only it wasn’t the one that I was supposed to be on. According to my map, I would be going the long way, but could still make it to the peak.

The trail

The trail

The City Wall

The City Wall

The rest of the hike was uneventful. Fellow hikers chatted with me in broken English, and I tried my best to pronounce “Anyong ha say yo” (Hello) correctly. A few ladies pointed to my tennis shoes, and said something in Korean. I assume they were asking why I didn’t have on hiking boots, but I kind of laughed, shrugged my shoulders and kept walking. The sky was overcast and I could hear thunder in the distance, but only felt a couple drops of rain.

A friend

A friend

The peak from the forest

The peak from the forest

The mountains here are mostly covered with dense forest except at the highest points. As you approach the peak, the forest breaks and enourmous rocks jut out providing stunning 360˚ views. Cable rails have been installed to help hikers climb the steep and slippery rocks, and without them I certainly wouldn’t have made it to the top.

Korean soldiers enjoy the view

Korean soldiers enjoy the view

Baekundae Panoramic (click for larger version)

Baekundae Panoramic (click for larger version)

I lingered for about an hour at the peak soaking in the view wishing that the fog would go away. It refused to leave, so I began the final leg of my journey hiking down the way that I was supposed to hike up. Half way down I found a large rock overlooking a sweet little stream and decided to stop and rest for a little bit. Shortly after I stopped, an American father and son that I had seen at the top joined me and the three of us watched the sun break through the clouds, and slowly, all of the clouds completely disappeared. They sky was crystal blue and we knew the view from the top would be stunning. We all kept repeating how nice it would be to be at the top now, but it was getting late and we agreed that none of us were interested in hiking at night.

The sun breaking through

The sun breaking through

The father, son and I hiked the rest of the way down together chatting about baseball, Seoul, the Korean language, living in Asia and hiking. I enjoyed my day so much that I asked them to recommend another hike that I could do tomorrow. I wrote down their ideas, and when I got back to the hostel, I researched a little bit to see which one I wanted to do. Unfortunately, when I woke up on Saturday, my legs could barely move. I guess my muscles aren’t used to hiking up mountains for six hours a day!!!

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Seoul Day 2: Dongdaemun and Sinchon

by Jamie

The view of Dongdaemun from the ladies restroom

The view of Dongdaemun from the Food Garden restroom

My second day in Seoul taught me that when left to my own devices, I shop. I don’t spend much money, but I can browse for hours on end. I like seeing what’s out there and knowing how much it costs. It is a skill that my mother taught me at a very early age and believe me, I have practiced. My theory is that when I do decide to make a purchase, I like to know if I’m getting a good deal. I have also learned over the last year that if I don’t know what’s out there, I make bad impulse purchases. Especially in foreign countries. For instance, I went shopping alone twice in Thailand and walked away both times with clothes that I have yet to wear because once I got home, I hated them. I did a similar thing in India, and in Jingdezhen. I am trying to learn the lesson that I am not good at impulse purchases. I cannot walk into a store in a country I have never been to and buy anything within an hour. I just can’t and shouldn’t do it. I need to take my time, so on Thursday in Seoul, I took my time.

I left room 306 around 10am and was headed to the Dongdaemun market area. From what I had read and heard, there were blocks and blocks filled with shopping malls filled with anything you could dream of, and that for clothes, the Doota building was the best (Thanks Anna!). Along the way I found a great second hand shop. The place was a vintage gold mine filled with  cameras, typewriters and lanterns that are getting harder and harder to find in the States. I was extremely tempted by the typewriters….but what was I going to do with a typewriter from the 1950’s in Asia? If that shop had been in Portland or Nashville, I would have a new treasure sitting in my apartment. Oh, and my previous statement about refraining from impulse purchases in foreign countries does not apply to vintage or second hand items. I am quite confident in my taste for old things, and I know what I will love forever. But the fact that I have to carry everything I buy across an ocean at some point limits my consumption.

When I made it to the Doota shopping mall, my feet already hurt so I took a break at the coffee shop on the second floor and people watched for a bit. This mall is similar to most mid-higher end malls/department stores in Asia.  The interior is clean and bright with the merchandise separated by designer in an open market stall set-up. The ground floor is all of the high-end fashion designers so I browsed through quickly and tried not to look at the price tags. The second floor is “young-career” and I spent most of my time here. Many of the clothing lines were filled with soft cottons and linens in calm colors, and I was very tempted. The first basement was dedicated to up and coming designers, and most of the clothes were geared towards teenagers and college students. Some of it was interesting, but nothing special.

By this point my feet were hurting again, and I was hungry. Rather than attempt to find something to eat at street level, I went to the 7th floor of the Doota building to eat at their food garden, and I am so glad I did. The dining area has a panoramic view of Dongdaemun, the food was fresh and tasty, and there were plenty of fashionable girls and guys to watch and see what the kids are wearing these days.

The Doota Food Garden

The Doota Food Garden

With my stomach full and feet rested, I headed across the Cheongyecheon Stream to Dongdaemun Shopping Town, otherwise known as the Craft Mecca of Korea. The building is six floors packed wall to wall with every imaginable sewing/knitting/embroidery/fashion design supply you can imagine. I was overwhelmed by the hordes of fashion forward ladies and gents walking around with their personal design books overflowing with sketches and fabric swatches searching for the perfect zipper or button. If Bravo ever wanted to do a Project Runway in Seoul, this would be the place the designers would come to purchase their materials.

On the upper floors, it was a little less hectic and I did make a couple  purchases. At one stall, I stocked up on basic notions like tailors chalk, hand sewing needles, leather thimbles and a measuring tape. At another I stocked up on a range of super soft felt in amazing browns, yellows and blues at 1,000won ($1) per sheet. Now I have the motivation AND materials to teach myself how to embroider!

After four hours of shopping, I stopped by the hostel to drop off my purchases and check email. Then I was out again and headed to the college area close to the Sinchon Station. Within a ten or twenty block radius there are at least five large colleges including Ewha Womans University, Yonsei University, Seogang University, Hongik University and Kyunggi University. Every street was packed with college coeds walking around with friends shopping, eating, drinking coffee, reading magazines, hitting baseballs at the batting cage, playing video games and chatting. It was a fun atmosphere that reminded me of my days at UTK and made me think of my cousin that starts her first year of college this fall. She’s going to have such a blast, and Chattanooga will never be the same!!

College Street

College Street

Of course, where there are college students, there is shopping. I dropped in a few more stores, almost bought a camera bag and tried to buy some cool shoes that would be quite comfortable….but my feet are too big. No size 9 in Seoul!

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