Other Stuff, Seoul
Favorite thing: Korean is a hard language for native English speakers to learn, but there's no reason why visitors to Seoul shouldn't learn the alphabet. Like Russian and English, Korean script is made up in letters, though the letters are combined into blocks of syllables tat may look like characters to the inattentive. Once you learn the simple rules for what sounds these symbols represent (rules with many fewer exceptions than English) you can read (but not comprehend) any Korean word. This is useful when finding subway or bus stops and may allow you to pick up a few Korean words that you see written everywhere (hajinshil == toilet is one equation I learned from reading). Furthermore, there are many Korean words that come from English (banana, ice cream) that you'll be able to read. So take the time to learn! Literacy is a great tool!
The United States has maintained an enormous presence in Seoul since the end of the Korean War. Though initially welcomed as an ally who helped ensure the country was free from communism, the US is no longer welcomed by many Koreans. Now that Korea's military is well trained and well established, the need for our military is gone. The US soldiers in Korea often cause trouble from drinking too much to the occasional vehicular homicide. And of course the area around the base caters to the miltary, while going against traditional Korean values.
Yongsan is the largest US installation in Seoul with some 7,000 people stationed here. It is the HQ for the US forces in Korea as well as the United Nations Command.
Favorite thing: The government seems to be making a concerted effort to promote Seoul as a tourist destination -- especially since South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup. There seems to have been a marked increase in tourism-related construction and an outlay in tourist-related won. The refurbishment of the palaces and the number of changinng of the guard ceremonies everywhere are evidence of thais. THe newest manifestation of this apparent movement (I only know of it from what I observe) is the relandscaping of Namdeamun (Great South Gate). It used to be in the center of a traffic circle (see the picture I posted under Things to Do) but in between January and July 2005 they eliminated one quarter of the roadway so now you can walk in a park like setting right up to the gate. Even more surprising, they have posted 15th Century guards! Do they have a changing of the guard ceremony here, too? Let me know if you find out.
The Walker Hill show! Great food, awesome music, mindblowing choreography. The best blend of local traditions and contemporary global culture.
Super romantic place to take your date.
Fondest memory: Live jazz music at Once in a Blue Moon!!
And of course, the Saturday nightlife in Itaewon!
And DVD shopping at the Electronics market!
For more about our adventures in Seoul, read this:
Favorite thing: One of my favorite things about Seoul is internet access. It is everywhere. Korea is one of the most wired places in the world and Seoul has got to be the most wired city. There are "hotspots" everywhere and if you don't own a computer, you can go to any of the thousands of PC rooms (PC bong) and use one of their computers to access the internet or play your favorite video game for as little as $1 US per hour. Also many of the PC rooms offer sandwiches and beverages for a nominal fee while you use their equipment. If you are into computers this is the place to be.
One look at these street special and I said to myself "I want those yummy-looking sausages with tomato sauce"...so a friend bought me a serving. Imagine my surprise when I learned that those were not sausages…and definitely not tomato sauce! Those were rice cakes with chili sauce… sooooooo spicy!
Try it while in Seoul (or maybe in any part of Korea...I'm not sure)...you'll be craving for it once you went home to your country.
Be sure to have water at hand...the cakes are so spicy and it would surely bring tears to your eyes.
When I wrote the outline for my Korean Journal, I noticed that 2 words dominate the pages...delicious and yummy ;0) Guess that explains how much I love Korean food.
A friend let me try Bibimbap in one of Insadong's cozy restaurants (unfortunately, I forgot the name of the shop). It is rice with lots of toppings like veggies, pork and noodles. According to him bibim means "mix" and bap means "rice". You need to put some chili paste to complete the mixture. It didn't look appealing at first (imagine kaning baboy!) but it is delicious. I love how the different textures compliment each other. And I love the chili paste though not too much because I couldn't tolerate its spiciness. With it, several complimentary side dishes were served; there is something that looked like "dilis" in spicy chili sauce, monggo sprout, radish, and the traditional cabbage Kimchi.
Fondest memory: I'm not sure if it's called Mak geol li....a kind local rice wine. It is milky white in color and served warm. It is very light and not as intoxicating as Soju. For a non-drinker, I can say this wine is very nice and has a delicate flavor. Very good partner for those hot chili paste.
Word of advice:
Eat with a friend and share. Koreans serve big servings of everything! Look at how big the bowl of Bibimbap was. My friends got bored waiting for me to finish it all up ;0)
Before going to Korea, I have made quite a detailed plan; where to go, what to do, what to eat, where to shop, what to bring and all the essentials. But I have found out that the best suggestions and informations come from the locals and from the visitors who have done the same trip as you are.
The picture shows the little note on how to get to the Seoul Bus Station. A Japanese lady offered me this when she found out that I wanted to go to Gyeongju alone. It saved me a lot of time, effort and anxiety in going there. And best of all, I made a new friend!
Favorite thing: There are alot of mosquitos from spring until winter. They are sneaky little #$&$%#'s. You can buy a plastic device with liquid that plugs into your wall to kill them automatically. There is also mosquito spray but you have to spray them directly and if you are sleeping that isn't possible. They will haunt you all night.
Although there are payphones in every subway station and all taxi-drivers have one (or two), if you're in Seoul for business or extended for pleasure (and/or plan on going outside of the city) renting a cellphone/mobile at the (Incheon) Airport can be a good idea.
The reasons are many:
(i) Absoutely everyone has a phone and everyone uses textmessaging too (it's more convenient than talking sometimes and Koreans can read/write English better than they can speak it in many cases);
(ii) Plans can change at any time and traffic can be a bother so you may need to get in touch with people or them with you;
(iii) Directions in Seoul can be a challenge and you may even need to call someone who is a few feet away because of the crowds, and;
(iv) It's just more convenient for you (and, more importantly, the people you may meet there) to be in constant communication.
Also, please know that Korea has its own special frequency (CDMA 2000) that is wholly different from all the others...even 3G phones and devices will not get a signal here: only Korean-band ones.
Prices are about 3,000 won/2.7USD a day plus 600 won/0.50USD a minute. Big carriers are LG, KT and SK (going from cheapest to most expensive, no real difference in service, but phones offered may vary).
Fondest memory: Click here for more phone information; but, contrary to its advice, you need not reserve a phone beforehand.
If you rent a phone while in Seoul/Korea (I have a tip on this also) you may find yourself with a run-down battery from time to time (even though the batteries in them are usually quite good). If you do there is an answer.
At many CVSs (Korean name for ConVenience Stores) and some restaurants and theatres there are chargers. A quick-charge (abotu 5-10 minutes, I believe) costs about 1,000won/1USD in a CVS but might be by 'donation' or free in a restaurant or theatre.
The Korean word for them is 핸드폰 충전기 (said as hand-fone choong-jeung-gi) so you can either ask around or do a little mime thing of holding your phone to your ear and acting as if it doesn't work to get someone to point you toward one.
My 2 korean friends, Jacky and Peter wanted us to try the Korean version of Nasi Goreng Pedas (Malaysian spicy fried rice).
I am quite sorry that I did not take the picture before eating, but we were TOO hungry!!! It is very yummy.... and spicy!!!
This is a WOW! I still remembered, when I first went into a Korean restaurant, I was amazed at the amount of side dishes served! It could be between 8 to 20 side dishes depending on the restaurant.
These are actually cold dishes and most of it features the famous Kimchi!! You can see kimchi in the picture. Kimchi is actually spicy pickled cabbage, they are all red in colour.
You know what is the best thing?? ALL of these side dishes are FREE! Cooool....
When my host mother brought us to DMZ, she packed Kim Pap as our picnic food. I thought it looked really like the japanese sushi but it is actually bigger and more tasty.
One roll of Kim Pap is enough to fill my tummy!!
This is also a popular dish... I love the taste. You have rice, meat, vegetables and paste served on a HOT claypot. Once the dish is served, use your utensils, and MIX everything together. You will hear sizzling sounds as you mix! ;o)