South Korean Trip Day 2
Welcome back to day two of our excursion to South Korea.
I was still feeling pretty discouraged from the night before but really wanted to make the most of the time in Korea, so we decided to take it easy and just go shopping. Nothing fancy, just check out some of the famous areas. During my studies of the Korean language in college, I had learned of a shopping mall that was basically open all night. It is called Dongdaemun mall. We had brought our guidebook with us, so I looked up the directions on how to get there via subway and headed on our way. I triple checked exactly how to get there because I was expecting the subway system to be similar to Tokyo's system. Tokyo is so confusing and it is easy to get lost. I wanted to make sure we were at least going in the right place.
We walked down a very long hallway with various shops that weren't even open yet. It was nearly 11am and hardly anything was open. This was the first sign that Korea is a night society. It was a pretty long walk to
the actual station but everything was clearly marked in English and Japanese along with the Korean, so it was pretty hard to get lost. The ticketing system was new to me. You apparently don't just buy a ticket and stick it in the machine; you buy a card and just tap the reader. When you reach your destination, you return the card in another machine and it gives you a refund for what you paid to get the card. It is really only 50 cents but I find that quite interesting and a rather unique system. Finding the right train to ride was very easy. Much easier than any other system I have used be it in the US or Japan. Everything is marked so well, you don't have to worry about anything. Why can't Japan be like that? The most interesting part about the subway, are the doors to get into the train. Normally you can see and feel the train coming and you get a gust of wind but there they had the trains traveling behind closed doors. Like the train was traveling in a hallway of sorts and two sets of doors opened. One set for the hallway and one for the train. Again, a unique system.
We arrive in Dongdaemun and I had to refer to our guidebook as to which exit to take. The exits are the only confusing thing about the subway system. We go out what we think is the correct way and head into Dongdaemun market. Now, there is a difference between market, and mall. The difference being that one of them is highly packed with all sorts of things and the other is an actual shopping mall that we are used to. We
took the exit for the market thinking that they were the same thing because there was no actual sign for the mall. We wondered around Dongdaemun market for about 30 minutes before we realized something didn't match up with the pictures and descriptions of our guidebook. So we headed back to the station to walk across to the other exit. The other exit said fashion center exit so I guess that is what they mean by "mall." I don't know, either way, we found what we were looking for. It wasn't very busy because, like I said, Korea is a night society. Things were so packed full in the stores. I don't know how anyone has time to see everything. It was super overwhelming. So much stuff. If all the craft fairs were to gather in one tiny space at one time, that would be what this place looked like. We quickly went through it all; otherwise, we would have been there all day just looking at stuff.
We were starting to get hungry so we looked for some place to eat. We happened to find a bookstore and that stole our attention away from food. The bookstore had actual board games. Japan has this aversion
to board games for some reason. They prefer video games and arcades. I saw only one arcade in Korea, but then again, we weren't really looking for them. We bought Jenga. It came with dice and numbers, but I couldn't figure out the rules so we will just ignore them. I also bought some Korean language books. The more we kept walking in the bookstore, the more we realized that it was part of a shopping center. The center was a mix of America and Japan. The fashion was similar to American clothing while still having a touch of cute stuff here and there. I felt that I could wear more Korean clothing than Japanese clothing. Japanese clothing is too doll like for me. One thing that is exactly like Japan is that both the top and bottom floors have food. So we went to the basement level and checked out all they have. They had menus displayed in front of their restaurants so it was easy to decide if you could afford to eat there or not. I don't know much about Korean food, but I did have a couple dishes that I most wanted to try before leaving the country. Ttokbokki (AKA Dokbokgi) was one of them. From what I understood, it was spicy noodle soup. We found an affordable place that had it and we ordered. I got to use Korean that day which boosted my moral. The food was glorious! Oh my goodness was it amazing. I made sure to order it with cheese because milk dampens spice. I have heard that Korean food is a lot to handle but I didn't want to ask for it without spice. I like spicy food. We don't get enough of it in Japan. This was spicy but nothing I couldn't handle. On a Taco Bell sauce packet scale, I put it at just barely above fire sauce, but with loads more flavor. I find that the Taco Bell packets have heat without flavor. Ttokbokki had SOOOO much flavor it was amazing. I normally don't hoot and haw over food, but this was so amazing! I was actually really sad when it was gone. I was full, my mouth was on fire, but it was so sad to see the food gone. You can order food without the spice so if you aren't fond of spiciness but want to try ttokbokki then you can ask them to put it on the side for you. There are also many types of ttobokki as well. The one I had was with dumplings and radishes instead of noodles. The soup was sweet but the spice hits you a couple seconds later. This is real spice too. Not that wasabi nose clearing spice.
I also had orange Fanta. It might not sound like something that is amazing or extra special, but when you live in a country that frequently doesn't have the same things you are used to having in your daily life; you start to appreciate the simple pleasures. One of those simple pleasures happens to be orange Fanta. To be honest, I didn't realize Japan doesn't carry orange soda until I saw it and drank it in Korea. Everywhere we went after that, I ordered orange Fanta. My countries are starting to be known by their drinks. Japan is melon soda country, US is root beer country, Mexico is apple soda country, and Korea was just dubbed orange Fanta country.
After eating we walked around the mall some more and tried on a few clothes. We also got amazed at just how much Koreans love coffee. Every floor had a coffee shop. So much coffee. In Korea, it is expected that you haggle when shopping. Not at a shopping center but at one of the local markets. I had practiced with my Korean instructor for a couple of weeks on how to barter in Korean, and I had the phrases ready to use when I found a pair of gloves I wanted to buy from a local market. I asked the guy how much they were and he told me they were 7,000 won ($7). I didn't find that unreasonable so there was no point in bartering so I just bought them as is. Guess I didn't need those phrases after all.
Our feet were tired so we went back to our hotel and got some snacks from a convenience store. We watched a stupid show on the History channel for some reason, then played some Jenga. After relaxing for a couple of hours we decided to head out to Namsan tower (Seoul Tower). There was a bit of a walk to the tower
because the tower is up on a mountain. You could either hike it or ride a cable car. We chose the cable car because how often do you get to ride a cable car up a mountain? Google maps was of no help to us because it kept insisting that we go to another station instead of the one that the station in city hall recommended we take. It turned out that we didn't need Google maps at all because once we looked up there was the tower. Several other people were also headed the same way so we just followed them. It was about a 10-minute walk or so to the cable car.
At this point, I hadn't figured out how to really calculate the money in won. My brain was still thinking in yen. So when the lady told me it was going to be 16,000 won, ($16) am standing in line frantically trying to gather together 160,000 won ($160) because I was thinking that the amount was actually in yen. The lady was nice enough to help me figure it out tho. (Side note, if you do go to Korea, it might be best to just use a Master card because they accept those in Korea).
I was expecting to be sitting as we rode the car up the mountain, but there were no chairs. They just packed as many people as possible into the car and we all stood while the car went up the mountain. Koreans have this tradition that you buy a lock, write your and your lover's name on it, then lock it to the railing. We didn't do it, but thousands of other people apparently had. Locks were EVERYWHERE. Namsan tower is a romantic
spot in Seoul so many people go there just to put their lock on the guardrail.
To go up the tower they have several ticket packages. They have different events and shows going on so you could buy a deluxe package to be able to go to all the shows, restaurants, and museums at the tower, as well as go up the tower. They also had one where you get 2 drinks and a tub of kettle corn included with your tower ticket. Not sure why you would do that but ok. We just got 2 basic tickets to go up the tower. Since Josh and I have been to several towers at this point, we basically compare them all and can tell you which ones are the best and which ones aren't worth it. Tokyo tower, for example, is a not really worth it. Only one part is cool and that is it. Tokyo Sky tree, on the other hand, has been the best tower we have been to yet. So basically everything gets compared to Sky Tree. I have to say, that Namsan tower is pretty comparable to Sky Tree. The tower itself is not nearly as tall as Sky Tree but Namsan tower was built on top of a mountain so it is almost the same height. The view is amazing. Especially at night. I love city lights. There weren't so many people either. I was expecting it to be packed with people. It wasn't so bad. They had a cute little souvenir shop inside where you can buy post cards and mail them immediately from the tower. You can only send them domestically but a fun idea nonetheless. We were there for quite some time. It was fun to see Seoul at night.
Basically, that was our second day in Seoul. We went to the Myeondon shopping street for a bit so we could grab something to eat from a street vendor then we just went back. It was pretty late by the time we returned. Almost midnight. It didn't feel that late tho. I think Korean nightlife was starting to rub off on us.
Tomorrow I will be at my visit school and will not have access to a computer, so you are going to have to wait a couple of days for day 3. Cheers!