A Seoul (Mis)Adventure

I’m not quite sure how I’d classify my Saturday in Seoul. I think I’ll know by the time I finish writing this. Let’s get to it. First of all, I got a couch Thursday night. It’s got ripped upholstery, so someone threw it away. It also came with a matching chair that was in better shape. Lawrence got the chair since his place is smaller, and I got the couch.

You can see most of the damage in this picture. It’s comfortable as hell though. And it gives me a place other than the floor to toss my shit.

Eight in the morning Saturday I got a call from Mr. Lee saying that the new teacher would be arriving at 11 AM. Eleven rolls around so I give him a call and find out he’s not arriving until 12:30 PM. We run some errands to buy a bed and blankets/pillows, etc… then go to Yawoori to pick Dave up. Not only is Dave from Ohio, but he’s actually an OSU grad, same class as me. Spring ‘o9.  It’s pretty fantastic having someone from Columbus. We had a pretty lengthy conversation just about the different pizza places in Columbus. Dave actually got to Korea Friday night, but after buses stopped running, so he stayed at a guest house. I guess that’s like a hostel. He didn’t sleep more than three or four hours though, so he was tired as hell.

We took him to his apartment, which is about a ten minute drive from my place, since he’ll be teaching primarily at Oseong (previously misspelled as Osang). I asked him if he was down for a trip to Seoul, and despite his weariness, he seemed enthusiastic about the trip, so I had Mr. Lee drop us off at the KTX station. An hour later we were in Yeouido and trying to locate Sid. Instead, we found this:

We could hear this guy about four city blocks away because of the massive sound system. I assumed it would be something to do with the Cherry Blossom Festival, but it was actually something quite different. Notice all the red head bands? Communist rally. A couple moments after taking this picture I found some students with Communist literature either for sale or to give away, I’m not sure.

Lots of fucking people. Also, they all got kindergarten carpet squares to sit on. I have no idea where they came from.

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but all of those flags are being held up by people sitting on the ground.

After backtracking to the subway station, we met up with Lawrence and Steve (a foreigner from the language group that teaches in Pyeongtaek, a couple subway stops from Cheonan). Then Sid came to get us and take us to the festival. She was upset because she lost her camera on the bus (this is important later).

Unsure of exactly how to get to the festival, we followed the crowd.

This unfortunate girl was standing on a corner by a big gas station. I didn’t notice the shoes until I re-sized the picture. Right after I took the picture she gave a really lame wave. I’m also pretty certain there’s no possible way she could be drinking that orange juice, but just held it there.

This is the Han River area. I recognized this part of the river from a Korean horror movie titled Gwimul — The Host (2006). The movie starts off with the nasty American coroner telling his Korean underling to pour several hundred bottles of formaldehyde down the drain, which ended up in the Han River. The result? A big baddy that eats people whole. The monster shows up like ten minutes in and the whole movie is about the main character trying to locate his daughter whom the monster took into the Seoul sewer system. Really good movie.

These are silkworms, served steaming hot. The silkworm I had was cold, thankfully, and it was bad enough. I’m normally very reluctant to say something from another culture is bad, but honestly, this is fucking disgusting. Not only does it look and taste awful, but it also smells pretty much like shit. Looking at the picture actually made me smell it again. And there were people every couple hundred feet selling cups of these things as snacks.

Getting closer to the festival.

If steaming hot silkworm doesn’t tickle your fancy, there were much more traditional fair foods available. Here’s some cotton candy. Also to be had: corn dogs, grilled corn on the cob, Korean popcorn (bigger, white, and slightly sweet), the Korean equivalent of an elephant ear, and more.

This twenty foot tall dog was at the entrance to the festival. He’s made completely of recycled gum boxes/cans.

Walking down the middle of the street at the festival. Left to right, Dave (blue sleeve), Stephen (curly hair), Lawrence, and Sid.

Guy doing a portrait of a little girl. He actually looked a lot like Johnny Depp, a la Secret Window, but Asian.

This guy was telling jokes, and apparently fucking hysterical, but it was lost on me. I got him looking directly at me, too. If you move his eyes follow you. Creepy.

Trees. I was actually told this year was a bad year for the festival as far as the cherry blossoms were concerned. Winter lasted a lot longer than it usually does, so some of the trees weren’t fantastic looking, but there were plenty of nice ones.

A recycled cardboard chicken.

This guy reminded me a bit of Bender. I’m sure it was completely unintentional, but I enjoyed it.

Recycled cardboard ship.

Not long after this picture we left the festival. Sid’s Korean co-teacher had called the bus station and they had her camera. Honor system is big in Korea. I consider myself a fair individual, but if I found a digital camera on the bus, my ass just got a new digital camera. After a little discussion, we decided Lawrence and Sid would hop on a bus and go to the central station to get her camera, and Dave and I would get on the subway, go to Sid’s neighborhood and hang out until they came back, then we’d drop our stuff at her place and head out to the clubs. Stephen went off on his own to Itaewon to meet some people for a going away party for a co-teacher of his.

Dave and I got to Chang-dong (Sid’s neighborhood, the extreme NE corner of Seoul) all right and spent some time walking around, admiring the street food and I showed him E-mart and some normal Korean stuff. Around 9 PM we began to wonder where Lawrence and Sid were, so I called them. It took a lot longer than planned to get the camera, and they were too far away to make it to Chang-dong by 10 PM when all the subways, trains and buses stopped running. Bottom line, Dave and I were stranded in Seoul with no place to sleep.

Sid’s place, unlike 99% of the apartments I’ve seen in Korea still uses a key to unlock the door, rather than a number pad, so we couldn’t get in. The other teacher in her building left for the night to drink and didn’t have a phone so we couldn’t get a hold of him. I tried calling Mr. Lee to see if he knew anyone we could stay with, but he didn’t answer. We sat down to a dinner of fried chicken from the street. It was pretty good, not great. It wasn’t seasoned at all, but the chicken itself was good. After that we got some soju, snuck it into a PC Bang so Dave could contact his family, etc… and waste some time while I figured something out. Eventually I just decided that we’d hop in a taxi and tell him to take us to a jjimjilbang.

I’ve mentioned these places before. They’re basically businesses that have public baths, pretty much jacuzzis, which one bathes in nude, and also sauna rooms, some food, and sleeping areas. I didn’t tell Dave about the nude part, since it wasn’t really relevant. We got in a taxi and I was in charge. Dave speaks literally no Korean. Not hello, goodbye, thank you. Nothing. I asked about a jjimjilbang, and the response was “Where?” Well you tell me, Jack. I could only say “I don’t know” and hope he could find one nearby.

After a couple minutes he pulled up to a sauna, and I had to say chago shipeoyo — I want to sleep, because I was unsure if a sauna would have a sleeping area like a jjimjilbang. He immediately understood and ended up just rolling the window down and asking people on the street for directions. One was close by, and it only ended up being like a six dollar cab ride. He asked why were going to a jjimjilbang to sleep, and I said we didn’t have anywhere else to go. This gave him the giggles. Chuckling fucker. Anyway, he was really helpful, and we went into the jjimjilbang.

As with any Korean establishment, the first thing you do when you walk in is take off your shoes and put them in a locker. It was only 8000 won for each of us, so less than $8 to spend the night, which is much cheaper than any hotel would’ve been. They give you a nifty little sauna uniform to be worn anywhere other than the bathing area. Then you get a bracelet to wear with a number and key to another locker for your clothes and anything else you have on you. Also, you use it to buy things. They just look at your bracelet number and write it down and you pay when you leave, before you get the key to your shoe locker back.

Right when we walked in, I looked around and to the left I saw a chubby, completely naked Asian man. Just walking around. I wasn’t checking him out or anything, but this guy wasn’t packing much heat, so to speak. I’m not saying that to make fun, but just to point how completely unashamed Koreans are to be nude in public. Dave saw it and just looked at me and said “What did you get us into?” We went to change into the uniform immediately, then found the sleeping area. It was basically a balcony above a room that one could enter saunas from. Just grab a mat and lay on the floor. There were probably thirty or forty Korean people doing the same thing. It’s completely normal to spend the night at a jjimjilbang. I don’t know why the taxi driver found it so goddamn funny.

Even on a mat, using another mat as a pillow, it wasn’t too comfortable. I only got three or four hours of sleep. We got there around 11 PM, then left at 4:30 AM to get to the train station early and catch a ride to Seoul Station and take a KTX home so we could get back still pretty early and maybe sleep some more. We stopped in a convenience store to use the ATM and ask the guy where the closest train station was, and he gave us some directions, but eventually we ended up just getting in a cab and splitting the cost. It was about a half hour ride to Seoul Station.

Let me introduce you to the best McDonalds in the world. Just to the right is a Korean McDonalds equivalent called Lotteria. It’s got burgers, fries and fried chicken. Not only is the McDonalds open 24 hours a day, but it only serves the breakfast menu. From 11 AM to 2 PM you can get a Big Mac, but other than that, just breakfast. Fucking genius. This needs to come to the States. I got a Sausage McMuffin, the first I’ve had in months, and it was just like home. After a hard night, it really picked me up. I hadn’t been to a McDonalds here before this, and I didn’t particularly miss the lunch menu, but the breakfast menu was a Godsend. Ambrosia from the Elysian Fields (look it up, I don’t have to explain everything) has never tasted so good.

This is my Korail ticket. It’s not as fast as the KTX, and it made three stops on the way, but it only took 20 more minutes and it was 5000 won cheaper, so it was a perfectly good option. The teller quite helpfully circled the date (perhaps I looked unaware of what day it was), the departing time, the city we were in (Seoul), and the city we were going to (Cheonan). Also worth noting, it tells us the number of the train, our car and seat numbers, but most importantly, the track number is missing. For some reason they never bother printing the track number on tickets here.

These are the 14 tracks of Seoul Station. Figuring out which track you need with the only useful information given to you being the departing time isn’t super hard, but I still checked with an attendant to make sure we were getting on the right train.

Also, I’m 22 years old. I’m a grown ass man. Yet, it’s 100% impossible for me to be in Seoul Station without very quietly saying “Seeeeeeeeeeeeeeoooooooooooouuuuuuuulllllllllllll TRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIN” to myself in a  high pitched voice and giggling like a little girl. Seoul is generally pronounced by Westerners exactly like ‘soul’, but natively it’s pronounced ‘saw-ul’. Still, I get a fair amount of enjoyment out of the silly pun.

We got back to my place a little after 8 AM. I’d had a couple cups of coffee and it’s impossible for me to sleep once it’s light out, so I let Dave crash on my bed, and I came to DnD to write this. I’m heading back soon. I’m going to spend the rest of the day watching Korean movies and relaxing. Perhaps calling Chang-ki later today to go buy a Korean textbook. Maybe seeing Mr. Lee to eat dinner and drink soju with Dave, as well as buy some of the necessities for Dave’s apartment.

In the end, it wasn’t an awful time. The initial shock of not having a place to sleep was a pretty big kick in the nuts, but it wasn’t terrible. It was made more bearable that I had Dave with me, so I wasn’t alone. At the same time, I felt pretty terrible having dragged him along on no sleep and then having a rather unfortunate night. Kind of a shitty start to his year here, but he was a good sport about it. It’s an interesting story, and I learned some stuff. I proved I can take care of myself. I got to practice my terrible Korean. As bad as it is, when contrasted with Dave’s complete lack of knowledge of Korean, I’m almost completely self-sufficient. At least enough to spend a night in a different city.

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2 Responses to “A Seoul (Mis)Adventure”

  1. Whoa huge kudos to figuring out what to do for the night. Also, that dude totally looks like Secret Window Depp! The guy I was dating last has let himself go substantially since he dumped me, and his hair is all like that, and I said, “What’s up Secret Window?” but he hadn’t seen the movie so my brilliance was lost on him..

  2. Hah. Secret Window. I love it.

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