So last weekend Erin’s visa needed to be stamped outside of China, so we decided to take a little weekend trip to South Korea. Lots of foreigners live in China with tourist visas and need to leave the country every 90 days, a so called “visa run”, but it gives people a good excuse to travel. I got off of work a little bit early and we headed to the airport. Beijing’s main airport has 3 terminals, and the majority of international flights leave out of terminal 3, the biggest terminal. The terminals are a decent distance apart, and it is always confusing which terminal your flight leaves out of. In one of the more bizarre scenes of my life, I jumped off of the train at the last second because I saw a flight leaving for Seoul on the electronic board. Erin, however, did not jump off the train. We had plenty of time, so I exchanged money and then went to check in. I waited for a bit and was waiting for Erin to come back to terminal 3. When I got to the front of the line, they told me we needed to go to terminal 2. Erin was already on the bus back to terminal 3, and I frantically darted off in the direction she had just left. I told Erin we needed to go to terminal 2, and she tried to hail a cab back to terminal 2, in tears and feeling like the trip wasn’t going to happen. I checked in at terminal 2 and told them Erin was on her way, and she made it about 10 minutes after. We walked on the plane just in time, with phase one of our journey complete. It seems like a dream now that I am writing this, I almost didn’t remember because I guess I tried to forget it. I was flush with 600k Korean Won as the pictures can attest, and we were relieved to even be going.

We arrived in Seoul an hour and a half later and hopped on a bus towards our hostel. Within a few minutes on the bus, I noticed some things different about Korea. First, the bus driver came by to check everyone’s seatbelts! WHAT?! Bus drivers in China don’t care if you walk on the bus with chickens, and Chinese taxi drivers sometimes urge you to undo your seatbelt since they are a safe driver. Second, the bus driver bowed to us before we started. Chinese don’t bow to anyone (that I have seen). Third, baseball was playing on the bus TV. Baseball, you ask? I knew that Japan liked baseball, but we came to learn that Korea LOVES baseball. There are a few Koreans playing in the major leagues, but this was a Korean league game, between the SK Wyverns and the LG Twins. As you can see, the teams are named after companies like in Japan (the Nippon Ham Fighters is my favorite), and I was pretty impressed with the play overall. The game was very different though, and the strategy seemed to slant much less towards power and hitting home runs, and more towards trickery and speed. I watched about 15 batters on the bus, and EVERY SINGLE BATTER acted like they were going to bunt on every pitch. It was ridiculous, and I can only imagine how quickly you would have your head thrown at if this were MLB. 2 out of 3 pitchers I saw had a submarine delivery, which means they basically throw underhand, and there are maybe 2 submarine pitchers in the entire major leagues. I know this is boring for anyone that doesn’t like baseball, but it was still pretty surprising to me that Korea liked baseball so much.

We got to our little hostel run by Jun, a Korean guy who spoke about 20 words of English. We walked around the neighborhood to get some food and the lay of the land, and luckily Erin put us smack dab in the heart of the hippest area of Seoul, Hongik University (right where we belonged…). It was mobbed with people under the age of 25 and we could start to see big differences between Koreans and Chinese. Hygiene, fashion, size, face structure, and skin color were all pretty different, with the Koreans being more “modern” in regards to fashion and hygiene. The Koreans are known in Asia for being fashionable, but I guess I’m really not fashionable (not I guess, I am not fashionable (and proud of it)), because the Koreans clothes were pretty laughable in most cases. About 20% of girls looked like Amish people, wearing long, country America style dresses, 30% looked fairly normal, and the other 50% looked like total trash that you would find at clubs in Beijing. We were in a young area, so that skewed the results, but even still these girls were not trying to look wholesome (barring the Amish impersonators). A lot of people were wearing hats and shirts with American baseball team logos, even though many of them had no idea what they were. The vast majority of people were wearing Cleveland Indians apparel, because Shin Soo Choo, Korea’s baseball champion, plays for them (and is really, really good). A lot of Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and some Phillies were seen too. We ate some nasty food and slept for our early trip the next morning.

As you should know, Korea is divided into two parts, north and south. The North is a dump ruled by tyrants that seem to only want to hurt their own citizens, citizens of other countries, and remain in power. The South is awesome and has the misfortune of having only one border, the DMZ, or demilitarized zone. The Koreans actually are still at war with one another, but signed a cease fire that the North loosely adheres to, and the DMZ was created after the Korean war in order to maintain peace between the two nations. The 38th parallel is the center of the DMZ, with 2 kms on either side of it serving as a buffer between the countries. There are tons of landmines inside, and it is the most heavily militarized border in the world. We got to see some interesting things on the tour, such as guard posts, the only train station in South Korea that goes to Pyongyang (has only made two trips ever and hasn’t gone in years), an observatory where you can look over the DMZ into North Korea (and see NK’s 3rd biggest city, which was basically a few factories), and go into one of the many tunnels that NK dug in failed attempts to invade the South secretly. I should mention that all South Koreans have mandatory 21 month military service (not Shin Soo Choo), but the North Koreans…mandatory 10 years for men, and 7 for women! The tour guide, CK, was a jolly South Korean guy who spoke great English, and although the tour itself wasn’t super interesting, it was pretty incredible to be able to see such an important part of history. It is a bit cliche, but you could “feel” the tension, and it is amazing that these two countries need to be divided physically just to maintain peace. Because of the lack of humans (due to the abundance of landmines), the DMZ has turned into an environmental wonderland, where animals and plants have been able to thrive without any human intervention. That is the positive from the story. We ate some soy bean chocolate, went to a ginseng store, and then were dropped off downtown.

We were dropped in front of one of the many palaces in downtown Seoul, just in time to witness the changing of the guard ceremony. The guards were dressed in traditional military clothing which was pretty cool, and again we noticed some differences between Chinese and Koreans. The Koreans not only waited in lines to take their picture with the fake soldiers, they also let us go before our turn in some cases! Don’t get me wrong, the Chinese are hospitable people and I love them, but this would be basically unheard of in a touristy location. We walked towards a giant festival that had booths and food from basically every country in the world, and were really enjoying our time in Seoul. Festivals everywhere you went and international food from everywhere on Earth? Yes, please. We ate falafel, pretzels, ceviche, and other stuff, while walking around a bit more and seeing Gyeongbokgung Palace before heading back to the hostel.

I guess I am in a writing mood because this is already pretty long. Somehow I wrote 1400 words already, so I will finish the remainder of the trip tomorrow. Also, my brother and his wife are going to have a baby in just a few days! Can’t wait to meet it and have a new member of the fam. For now, to be continued…

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