First contact in Seoul
1st June. Diary Format.
We have arrived in Seoul and are stomping on South Korean ground!
At Incheon International Airport. We got our tourist visa which is valid for 3 months. The airport looks modern.
First stop. We spotted a 7Eleven and when you have been following me in Tokyo, you do know why this is awesome. They were pretty well stocked.
Money exchange at the airport. The currency unit here is won (written as capital W). There are 10, 50, 100 and 500 coins and notes come in denominations of 1000, 5000, 10,000 and 50,000. We exchanged 103,ooo won for 10,000 yen.
Taking the bus from the airport for 6,000 won per person which dropped us of at a station near our new home. No English signs at the bus stations, we counted the stops and compared writing.
As we were driving into Seoul, the view looked like this. Seoul’s topography is vertical and drab. Residential skyscrapers house 10 million inhabitants in Seoul’s metropolitan area.
We now live in one of these concrete scares.
I noticed that many cars were bruised and scratched and I was wondering about those blue foam blocks on car doors. Turns out that this aesthetically unpleasant sight is a necessity to avoid scratches from carelessly opened doors.
The streets will usually have two zebra crossings, one for each direction. However, pedestrians do not care and most of the times there is only one lowered section in the approaching sidewalk anyway.
The hallways of our block. We rent for a small apartment for a lot of money. It feels a bit like living in the futuristic architecture of The Fifth Element, in Korben’s residential cubicle apartment.
We left our baggage and went out for some food. We tried Japanese onigiri from the 7Eleven first, the triangular rice ball with a nori seaweed sheet we liked a lot on Japan. In Korean, onigiri is called jumeok bap or samgak gimbap meaning ‘fist-rice’ or ‘triangle-seaweed-rice’. And it was very spicy kimchi flavoured and coloured.
Walking past an impressive roundabout. Namdaemun or officially called Sungnyemun is one of the reconstructed Eight Gates of the Fortress Wall of Seoul. During the Joseon Dynasty (longest ruling Confucian reign 15th to 19yth century) it surrounded the city.
We came to Taepyeongno, Jung-gu, the heart of Seoul. What a sight. The Seoul City Hall only just opened in 2012. It’s a governmental building for Seoul’s administrative affairs. In front is Old City Hall building, which is now the Metropolitan Library and the Seoul Plaza.
Location: next to City Hall Station on Seoul Subway Line 1
We couldn’t find a restaurant with a vegetarian option (Koreans excessively like their pork and beef). Eventually we spotted a fish restaurant, opposite Ciy Hall which looked kinda posh. Despite that and the restaurant being in a prime location, there was no English menu and no pictures. The staff didn’t speak English (at all) either. So we tried to decipher their Korean menu with google.
I would like to tell you the name of the restaurant but on their business card it only says ‘Baked Fish Restaurant’ in English.
Korean (한국어 / 조선말) is spoken by over 6o million people. It is similar to Japanese grammatically, about 70% of its vocabulary comes from Chinese.
Google translate fails on the Korean Hangeul alphabet.
We ordered from the restaurant’s take away brochure with only a few pictures. After ordering one soup and eel we got all these starters. You can pick a nori sheet and pack in whatever you like. Neat and very tasty.
I tried my bowl of soup – the size of a vat! – fishing out interesting things.
It was tricky to work those ultra thin and slippery Korean metal chop sticks.
Whatever that was, apart from a sight to get used to, it tasted allright.
This I knew.
I liked the interior.
Cool view on the City Hall.
Cheers from Seoul to my deer followers!
Korean chopsticks. I think I finally got a grip!
One dish was 15,000 won the other 22, 000 won. Easy to calculate because there is no tipping in Korea!
Money ran out fast, so it was off to the ATM. After we finally found one we could use, it was out of order.
Obviously we always keep a bit of change for a doughnut. But at Dunkin’ Donuts (which has maaaaany branches in Seoul) we weren’t served! There were plenty of doughnuts left but the displayed Dunkin’ Hours seem to apply to staff only, not customers. We were told they are closed. Once outside again, we checked the time.
Fate had it that we stumbled upon their open competition. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. The place looked a bit filthy with tons of litter on trays, tables, floor, trash containers… but the doughnut and drink supplied enough sugar to be content.
Walking around the city, we came across a shopping street. A usual sight – the clash of high street stores and street vendors with their stands.
Very popular, sliced and fried potato to form an artistically crisp spiral.
Vending machine! Not many around. So this one was quiet a find. With toiletries, gum and condoms.
At the metro we saw an example of Korean vending machine drink variety. A coffee machine and mostly fizzy drinks. And a fridge (?) in its midst.
As we were heading back we noticed Wifi on the train. Cool. We use a South Korean Wifi Egg on the go but there is a limit of 20GB on it. After the internet connection has been fixed, we now have (surprisingly slow!) wired internet at the apartment.
To get through the metro you purchase a swipe card but if you don’t time yourself well, you might get stuck. I did. The gates wouldn’t open, so I had to push the red emergency button which, to make matters worse, made an extra alarming sound, the noise level I would expect to hear when North Korea was about to attack. But after a soothing voice spoke to me in Korean and I back in English, the door buzzed open.
You have to return the one way ticket every time, in order to get the deposit of 500 won back. A form of recycling.
As we arrived at our station the day had faded and the city lights flickered on. Neon crucifixes were glowing in the darkness at about every second block. I think that the majority of South Koreans identify as non religious but almost a third of the population is Christian and just under a quarter identify as Buddhists.
Those dominant red crosses are something to get used to. And the smells. There is a trash problem in the city. When walking around, smells of open sewers hit us constantly. There are smelly trash piles everywhere and litter all around. But hey, what doesn’t kill you, makes you smell!
Tomorrow is going to be more sightseeing!