Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seoul Part 1: Wintry Arrival

I had been told that it had snowed in Seoul for a couple of days prior to my arrival, but for some reason I wasn't expecting there to be much accumulation. However, as we descended at the end of the afternoon flight from Shanghai I could see that the mountains outside of the city were draped in snow. As soon as we landed I noticed that the airport grounds were covered in white. As I walked through the terminal the snow resumed outside. It was winter alright.

Seoul's ridiculously efficient (and massive) airport (which is actually in Incheon, an hour away) got me through customs, immigration, baggage claim, foreign exchange, and onto a bus in a matter of minutes. I was worried the roads would be a mess, but the salt trucks must have been out in force because it was clear sailing all the way down the highway into Seoul. I got off at Gyongbokgung station and was immediately greeted by dirty, mushy snow that my shoes were not designed for. Fortunately it didn't feel as cold as I had been expecting.
I hailed a taxi, showed him the directions to my friend's apartment (Korean has a script, called hangul, so I had printed off the address since I had no idea how to pronounce anything), and we were on our way. About 10 minutes later I was at the apartment and settled in to wait for my friend, Mimsie, to get back from work. I should note that I had no itinerary for this trip. Mimsie has lived in Seoul for around four years so I was completely relying on her deciding what to do. I hadn't done the slightest bit of research before leaving, didn't know a single word of Korean, and had no idea what was going on.

Once she got home we headed to Gwangjang Market on the subway. These types of traditional markets are being pushed into oblivion by supermarkets, but this one still appeared to be quite popular. Boiling vats of soup poured clouds of steam into the cold night air, and dozens of people hunkered down on benches with bottles of soju and hot food. We sampled a few dishes to try to warm up.

kimbap, seaweed wrapped around rice and veggies
tteokbokki, spicy rice cakes. These were really nice.
pig parts
After that it was on to Insadong, which is apparently usually packed with shoppers but was completely dead tonight. We ducked into Insadodong Siyebi, a warm, welcoming restaurant and got makgeolli and pajeon.
Magkeolli, thick Korean rice wine. 
Pajeon, seafood pancake.
other restaurants
One of the best things about Seoul's enormous subway system is that it allows you to cover a lot of ground on foot without being exposed to the elements, as stations sprawl all over the place and are packed with restaurants and shops. We went underground to get to another part of Insadong and stopped at Dong Bang, a little stand that serves pastries stuffed with chocolate or other sweets. I was told that Koreans have a scatological sense of humor, and this name literally translates into 'Poo Bread'. They even sold hats shaped like a pile of shit.
Once we popped back up at ground level I couldn't help but notice this awesome building.
It was a perfectly clear night, and the temperatures were getting properly cold now. We walked down a street near Jonggak Station that was drenched in neon and covered in treacherous patches of ice and stopped at Bier Garten for a drink. When I used the bathroom before we left I couldn't help but notice that several people had vomited in it, my first sign of the Korean propensity for overdoing it with booze.
When we walked out of the bar I immediately began shivering uncontrollably. It was around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and my body was struggling to adapt. The subway had stopped running since it was after midnight, so we needed a taxi. This turned into an epic fiasco.

There weren't many taxis around for some reason, and the ones we did see already had passengers anyway. We walked a few blocks and finally spotted some available taxis. However, as soon as the drivers pulled up and saw that we were foreigners, they immediately drove off. After this happened for the fifth or sixth time we were pissed, especially because Mimsie speaks a bit of Korean, it's not like we couldn't communicate at all. After 30 minutes of futility in the frigid cold we decided to hop on a random bus and see if it would get us any closer to the apartment. It did, but not by much. We waited at a corner where there were plenty of taxis, but all going in the wrong direction. We stopped one and asked him to turn around, and he refused. We offered 10,000 won, more than double the meter rate, yet he still refused, kicking us out into the snow again. Finally, about an hour after leaving the bar, we found a driver that was willing to pull a u-turn and go back the way he had just come. We were annoyed and freezing, but we were finally home. It had been an interesting first half-day in Seoul.

1 comment:

  1. Great article and photos. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete