After my 19 hour day on Friday, I decided a later start wouldn’t be too crazy (although as it turned out Saturday was also a 19 hour day!). I got out on the streets by about 10.30am, and made my way first to Gyeongbokgung, Korea’s central tourist sight. Gyeongbokgung has been the “Primary Palace” of Korean leaders since aaages ago, and at various times looting, pillaging, arsen and the muder of a Korean Queen have all gone on inside (usually because of the Japanese). It’s nicely set against the hills behind Seoul, and is clearly modelled on the Forbidden City, Beijing. The colouring of Korean temples and shrines in particular is really good; in Japan, everything is red and black but in Korea there were greens and blues, and a lot more detail. After Gyeongbokgung I “strolled around Insadong“, as the Lonely Planet suggested, and some of the quiet backstreets were really nice. It seemed a completely separate place to the rest of Seoul; old, wooden houses (yet in remarkably good condition), peace and quiet, and surprisingly few tourists despite it being heavily advertised in the guidebook. I did more walking, and saw more lovely leaves, which you can see in the photos. Then I went to the second and my last of Seoul’s five palaces, Deoksugung Palace. Deoksugung is right next to Seoul’s City Hall, and a big park where something was taking place; people were everywhere and there was lots of shouting. I arrived during the changing of the guard. At both Deoksugung and Gyeongbokgung, the guards were dressed up in cool outfits, a bit like the Swiss Guards in the Vatican. They marched around a lot, much to the delight of the tourists (including me). It was at this point that my camera decided to give up on life (at least temporarily), so the other photos were taken with my phone. It was about 4pm after the Palace, so I decided to launch into another activity before night; I climbed the big hill! What was initially meant to be a stroll up to a Buddhist temple ended up with me hitching a lift with a monk in a landrover, then climbing up steps for ages and ages, reaching the top for sunset. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets; made better as only me and 2 other people were at the top of the hill. One of them tried to explain several things to me in Korean, but failed. He did point out the “Korean White House”, right behind the old seat of the Kings, Gyeongbokgung. The sun set over the Han River to the west of Seoul, and to the north, the shadowed mountains hid the DMZ and Pyongyang beyond. To the south, Seoul slowly changed from a daytime grey to a nightime of twickling lights everywhere. Three massive TV screens could be seen from the hill, it was crazy! And further south, Seoul Tower perched on a solitary hill in the centre of the largely flat city. The sunset was beautiful, but so was the view of Seoul at night, a better view than the one from Seoul Tower as it was just me in the end standing on what felt like the edge of the rocky mountain, looking out at and above the flickering night lights.
After dark I climbed down a bit, then hitched another lift all the way down to a subway station. This got me back into Seoul, and to close to where the hostel was. For dinner I had another whole chicken! For the second day in a row I had a meal meant for two people- this one was a far bigger, spit roast chicken, with rice, side dishes and beer. It was goooood! Back to being full of beer and chicken, I popped back to the hostel (no-one was in) then headed to Insadong to buy things and then to the south bank of the Han River. It was a cool place to chill out, but nothing special. I had a few beers and got back to the hostel about 12 (after missing the last subway train and having to walk a fair way; at least I had a beer for company), and drank with some other JETs, from Kyushu, my Japanese friends and the Texan. At about 2 we were told by Crazy Lee that we were being too loud, so we went out into the night. Next thing I know Crazy Lee is leading the way! He had loads of bottles of soju, the size of beer bottles, for us to drink in the city. They were really strong (25%), and like other Asian rice wine (like shochu in Japan). It saved us lots of cash! Drinky drinky fun continued to Karaoke fun and then, eventually, sleep.
Sunday: Death and Pain
At 8am my J-pop ringtone launched into life, blaring out the happy go-lucky tones of Puffy AmiYumi for the whole room to hear. I slumped out of bed and began the long, long journey back home. I somehow got the bus on time, and croacked replies to the check-in lady at the airport. In the departure lounge I summoned the strength to buy omiyage for the sensei at Shonan and Seishi, before finding a great internet cafe with really comfy chairs! At Kansai I got to turn down the “Foreigners” gate in favour of the “Nihonjin and Multiple Entry Holders” gate, hurrah! At customs, however, the guy decided it was my lucky day, and looked through my stuff, as well as asking why I was coming to Japan (I thought about saying “terrorism purposes”, but decided this wouldn’t speed things along). He didn’t like my answer of “I live in Japan” in Japanese, I think because I attatched a particle to the end that made me sound quite arsey (“yo”, a bit like “don’t u know”). In Osaka I had shabu-shabu for dinner, glad to be back in the land where ur surrounded by vending machines, and they make you cook your own food 🙂 After a long wait I got my coach back to Okayama, then my train to Kaminocho, and – ta-da! – I was home.
I’ve been feeling like death ever since! Now is Friday, and I seem to have the flu, or at least a very bad cold, so I’m under a blanket in my living room with a glass of umeshu to warm me up. Saturday was the best day of the trip, I got to sing karaoke Puffy! But Sunday I really did feel bad, and the two beers I had on the flight home, which I thought would help, didn’t. Still, I had a great time in Korea. I tried a lot of traditional food, well, certainly a lot of food, and the beef onions and garlic pot + 9 other courses meal on Friday was truly oishii!! Perhaps the best meal I’ve had since leaving Waitrose Humous behind. The sights of Seoul are nice, and Seoul seems like a good city to have a good time in and shop. It’s a bit dirty, and a bit more “Asian” than Japan is; certainly more like China than Japan I think. It’s also got a bit less to see than I expected, although I certainly had no trouble at all filling the two days! I prefer Japanese food too. The DMZ was well worth going to; it was really interesting, made even more so by the tour guide who I pestered a lot.
In two days I have my Japanese Language Proficiency Test in Takamatsu, which means I have to wake up at 6am on a Sunday! Wish me luck…