I always end up neglecting my blog when I travel; it’s hard because there’s too much to say in one post, and then you put it off, and then you lose the will to write anything at all. Despite all the commentary I wanted to make about my trip and Koreans and all that jazz… I will right now just force myself to smash out some paragraphs, before all memory of Korea is gone!
First up: Korea in early January is COLD. But gorgeous blue skies and sunshine meant that I was happy, if somewhat chilly. Oh yes and HEATED FLOORS <3.
When I got there on Thursday night I was horrified to see my phone wouldn’t work. This however was rapidly solved by hiring an iPhone for a couple of dollars a day — I am blown away by how easy and practical and organized Korea is in contrast to other Asian countries I’ve been to.
The next day was Friday and Stef had to work, so I wandered around Suji, admiring the snow and ice (which I hadn't seen for a couple of years) and trying not to cry every time I stumbled back onto the beautiful long running path that follows the river all the way to Seoul. I intentionally did not pack my running gear, and that was smart of me, because crippled knees or not, if I could have, I would have run.
On Friday night we went for an amazing vegan Korean dinner. It was delicious and so tasty! I should have taken pictures but was too busy stuffing myself — it was a banquet including so many dishes and side-dishes and I needed to cram as much of it into my mouth as possible.
On Saturday we went on an organized trip (well there aren't any other ways of doing so) to the DMZ (demilitarized zone, on the border with North Korea). I hope (dream on, lady) that I will get round to uploading all my own pictures and doing a proper post on the tour, because of course it was fascinating and terrifying all at once. Here are some pictures from Stef's camera:
This was way before we entered the DMZ and actually I think the sign is just for tourists like us who want to feel naughty — our guide told us it was fine to take pictures.
Again, pre-DMZ, we were supposed to admire this massive train and the walls of remembrance ribbons. But everything was in Korean so the significance escaped us somewhat. I wanted another cheesy picture showing the contrast, Stef obliged:
After this we climbed onto a bus headed for the Joint Security Area (forgive me for never explaining or linking to anything, I just assume everyone has Google and isn’t afraid to use it if they are really intrigued). Once on the bus it was drummed into us that we were not to point or wave or move our arms from our sides, lest it be interpreted as a hostile gesture — those NoKos shoot without warning and to kill.
This took the grin off our faces a little — ok, I lie, it just made us grin in a nervous way instead. No photos allowed unless expressly permitted… the tales I could tell… anyway, last picture is a tantalizing shot of Stef and me standing smack on the border between the two Koreas. I’m in North Korea (you can tell by my fearful rictus and lumpen, military-style clothing), and Stef is in South Korea, and in between us, keeping the peace, is a real live solider (yes, we had to look closely to be sure. Luckily he had a pimple so we knew it was a real person).
Ok. Then the obligatory exit through the gift shop etc etc. We got back to Seoul and had a lovely evening eating lots of pretzels at a bar called Woodstock.
Sunday we were going to visit a Jjimjilbang (only linking because I had to google it anyway to find the spelling), but due to unhelpful periods decided to give it a miss and hit the supermarkets for an afternoon of free samples. The Koreans really know how to provide supermarket snacks! We ate so much — fruit, sweet potato buns, yoghurt, fried mushrooms, spinach pancake, and some evil/amazing pancake stuffed with brown sugar and spices that burnt our tongues but kept us coming back for more.
On Monday I went to Stef’s school with her and got to witness Stefany Teacher in action. Some of the kids were unbearably cute. I wish I could show you pictures of the 5-year-olds rehearsing their speech contest! I also did most of my Chinese homework on Monday… I reckon that’s the first time in history I have gone on holiday and succeeded in doing the schoolwork I brought with me.
Monday night we went to yoga, which was heavenly, thanks to heated floors and thick, luxurious mats. Stef and I agreed that yoga shouldn’t be done under any other circumstances!
Tuesday morning I hopped on the bus to the airport — only it was the wrong airport. The driver dropped me at the side of the freeway where I stood for 25 minutes stessed and frozen, until another bus came along and took me to Incheon. My worries were not over yet though! At the check-in, there was much concern about my lack of visa/ticket leaving Taiwan, as they didn’t think immigration would let me in. They started to make me panic, and without really thinking it through, I grabbed my ipad, went to Expedia and bought the cheapest ticket to Hong Kong (an AWFUL flight that takes 8 hours, with a middle-of-the-night 4-hour stopover in Singapore. RETARDED).
In the end Taiwan immigration was ok, the guy was originally rather confused by the numerous expired Taiwan visas in my passport, but once we had bonded over the fact that he also went to Zhengda University, he told me he would “give me” a 90-day landing visa. This was what I had planned all along… why are visas such stressful things! I hate immigration. Anyway, now I have a new visa, and a ticket to HK for the end of Feb, and all is well.
Ok! I did it! go me. That was my update about Korea.