OK, I will pick up where I left off about the Seoul trip. So, it was Saturday evening and we were going to meet up with a friend of a friend, Laylani (Leylani, Lalani, idk which) and her boyfriend James. We went to a very Korean place for dinner, a dak galbi place, which is the super traditional Korean BBQ. Basically, its a hot plate that you cook a bunch of different food on, usually thick noodles, chicken, peppers, covered in a BBQ sauce. I love this stuff and was glad we got to have some. Our friends were both army folk, which represents a large number of the Westerners in Seoul. I knew that Seoul was the second biggest city in the world in terms of the greater metropolitan area, but it was remarkable how spread out the city was. Our friends came from hours away to Seoul for the weekend, which seemed to be a very common theme for people we met. It was cool meeting some people living a similar adventure to us but in Korea. If I were in the army, it would be pretty great getting stationed in South Korea than most other places (large understatement alert). I had heard that Koreans loved to get drunk, even more than Chinese, which I thought was going to be a stereotype. I can now confirm that the stereotype is completely accurate. I don’t mean a “little tipsy having a few beers with friends”, I mean “chugging rice and grain alcohol to the point of total intoxication.” Again, we were in a popular area to party and filled with university students, so they were perhaps more wild than others, but lets just say that the general population we saw was loud and drunk (and wearing baseball apparel). Dinner was great and we headed to another bar to meet up with some other friends.

One thing about the area that we noticed was tons of live music. People were playing on the streets and pretty large crowds formed around them, making the area a lot more lively. We went to another bar and met up with some other people, one of whom went to my friend’s alma mater, Western Kentucky University, played some electronic darts, hung out for a while, and then headed home. It was a fun night out and it was great meeting James and Laylani. We are hoping they decide to come to China so we can repay their hospitality. We headed back to the hostel to get ready for another festival that was happening that weekend, celebrating the birth of Buddha.

Sunday morning was our last day to tour, so we tried to hit up some of the other hot spots. Luckily for us, there was the festival we went to the day before and the Lotus Lantern Festival going on. We went to Jogyesa Temple, which seemed to be the center of the Buddha Bday celebration, and looked at the booths on Asian medicine, crafts involving Buddhism, got our picture dressed like Buddha, and marveled at the Korean celebrities that we didn’t know. The temple was covered in lanterns of all different colors, and there was some sort of prayer ceremony going on inside the temple. It was cool to see but it seemed a little strange that people could walk into a temple and just take pictures of people praying on seemingly such an important day. I don’t think it would fly in the USA if on Easter Sunday or Christmas if a bunch of loud Chinese/Korean tourists stumbled to the front and started snapping pictures. We did it anyway and nobody seemed to mind. We were close to the famous street and tourist spot called Insa-Dong, which is basically a big street with shops and restaurants on both sides. Similar to China, it made you realize that you were in Asia, because there just aren’t places in the West that have that many people around all the time. Erin mentioned in the last post about the Turkish ice cream vendors, and I will try to put a video of one of them playing with the kids. These guys should be in every major city in the world because it was pretty hilarious to see them messing with the kids. Big crowds gathered just to watch each kid take their turn being faked out and fooled by the ice cream man.

We walked into some tea shops and other places looking for clothes or presents, eventually stopping at a pretty authentic looking Korean place for lunch. We had to take our shoes off and sit on the floor, and the place was filled with only Koreans, so it seemed authentic to me. I got a bibimbap, a great little Korean dish that is rice inside a hot stone pot, filled with vegetables, seaweed, an egg, and sometimes meat. Of course the meal came with kim chi (as did every meal), and the prices were pretty solid for a lot of food. 5 bucks to get completely full on fresh food…I was impressed. Erin found a tea shop where she bought some “naturally” sweet tea called Snow Dew tea, which is green tea that is supposedly sweet on its own. It is good and sweet. We walked around a famous shopping area with a weird name (Ssamziegil), then headed back to the heart of the city to try to see some palaces.

We walked back to the palace we had started at the day before (where the changing of the guard ceremony took place), but it wasn’t the palace I wanted. I am very anti-taxi and would basically walk until I couldn’t anymore, but at least they are reasonably priced in Asia. I should mention how amazingly nice the taxis in Seoul were. They were all nice Hyundais, pristinely clean on the inside, modern on the outside, and with some pretty amazing innovations to boot. All of them had visible GPS’s that showed exactly the route you would take, and if you say the words “interpreter” or “English”, the cabbie will make a call, get you a translator in a few seconds, and off you go. This city is so modern it is insane. Anyways, the cab dropped us at Changdeok Palace, which is known for its gardens. It looked a lot like Chinese palaces, but it had some cool features and looked “older” than most other palaces we have seen. The royal family from Korea must have been real short, because my head would have smashed through just about every doorway that we saw. It was a beautiful palace, remarkably quiet considering how close to downtown it was, and offered some amazing views of the city. The garden was pretty “meh” (a word I use commonly on the internet to express apathy), but it was a nice escape. Plus I saw a chipmunk, a very rare wildlife sighting! We left the palace and headed out for dinner.

We met a teacher named Demond in Tangshan, the city in China we used to live (I know you all probably know this). He taught right after we left, and I wrote the new teachers a long note if they needed any help or if they ever visited Beijing to email me. We met up with him and the other teachers in Beijing, and I remembered that he mentioned he would be going to Seoul to get his PhD, and luckily we were able to meet up. We went to a place called Yeti, a Nepalese/Indian fusion restaurant that was GOOD. I am starting to really fall for Indian and Pakistani food…I find myself craving it as much as Italian or Mexican these days. We were with Demond, his roommate from Chicago and girlfriend from South Africa, and it was a lot of fun. They all seemed to love Korea and it did seem like a great city to be in. A huge difference between Korea and China is the internet. The internet in Korea is foolishly fast. 5 or 6 times the speed of our internet at home was what I was getting on the wireless at the hostel we were staying. Faster than the USA. The place is paradise I tell ya. We finished dinner, walked around and talked at another bar for a little while, met the insane “Makgeolli man”, a guy that drags a cart with awful South Korean liquor around, saying “I love you”, “Obama” and other hilarious English phrases (see the photos of the insane looking Korean man in the last post). After that, it was bedtime, back to the airport, one more bibimbap for David while waiting, then on the plane. Trip was short but sweet, but hopefully I will be back.

South Korea is a great place. The people were friendly to us, but we were told that they have an overall bad attitude towards foreigners, especially Americans. It seemed that the older generations really respected and appreciated Americans and realized that they would be part of North Korea without help from the USA, but the younger generations seem to lean strongly to the socialist side of the political spectrum. Combine that with the heavy presence of American military and you have cooked up a pretty good batch of anti-American sentiment. The city of Seoul, the food, the culture, and technology are incredible though, showing the ingenuity, intelligence, and resolve of the Korean people. I was really pleased with the trip and really impressed with the city. Definitely one of the favorite cities that I have ever been (Barcelona, Hong Kong, Seoul, Rio de Janeiro, San Diego and DC of course!).

Hope everyone is doing well. Ready to be an uncle. Bye for now.

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