Friday, June 7, 2013

South Korea 2013, Pt. 2: A barometer for the times (and the times, my dear pup, are most grim)

Welcome to Part 2, which hopefully will be the final part of this travelogue, assuming I don't get lazy halfway through and end up ditching it for something else entirely. Anyhow, picking off from the previous post. On our x-th day in Seoul, out of x days. Putting an x in place of a number makes the paragraph look mathematical (and distracts the reader from an important fact). Moving on.

Today's destination: Nami Island, a small island in the middle of nowhere, famous for being used in the filming of the root of the hallyu plague, Winter Sonata. Best times to visit are supposedly Winter (like in the show) and Spring (nothing like the show), when the fauna is in full bloom.

Getting there took a fair bit of time. We took the train, which seemed to take forever, and was packed most of the way. Once there, we took a relatively cheap taxi to the pier, and from there purchased a 'passport' (ferry ticket) to Nami island. A short cruise over the partially frozen over lake, and there we were.

Some odd ice sculptures jutted out from the scenery, and some other random items like naked natives. Even in Summer the natives in Seoul do not dress (dress down, that is) like this, so don't get your hopes up, regardless of whether you intend to ogle or to determine if the popularity of similar plastic surgeries extends beyond (below, to be precise) the face. Random fireplaces. A train ride for kids. A small exhibition hall where we went bonkers and bought some trinkets. Fish bones.
Perhaps it was the cold. Or perhaps they were bored. In any case, we decided to get out of the cold and have lunch. The nearest restaurant, unfortunately, didn't have a very legible menu (to non Koreans, at least). We separated into two groups and ordered a bit of this, and a bit of that. The other table went bonkers and ordered a lot of this and that. We ended up looking like loaded, wasteful, illiterate gluttons. One half of the table, at least. There wasn't much else to do after that except for go around camwhoring, and a snowball fight (sort of) which consisted of one person throwing a clump of snow and the rest of us laughing at him, wondering just what he was trying to do. It started to snow just before we left.

The train ride back was interesting- I suppose. One odd creature who took up two seats and refused to make way for others, and a busker with a saxophone. At one point two policemen came though from another coach, and they stopped a few steps away from him. I thought they were about to detain him, but it turned out that they were just waiting for him to end the piece before passing through. Their actions were more impressive than the music, to be frank.

Before ending the day, we stopped by at Lotte World for a brief walk through the supermarket and for dinner. There was a perky chap selling pastries, tonnes of kimchi (photography forbidden, though I managed to snap a few). Oh, and not to forget, a replica Fontana di Trevi, which most visitors seemed to ignore- perhaps because it was simply too incongruous with the surroundings.
The day after. To Camp Kim, a US army base in Seoul, to start off our tour to the Demilitarized Zone. There was a little scare in the beginning when one passport was left behind in the hotel, and we had to turn back to retrieve it. After a short bus ride, we reached- memory fails me- Camp Bonifas? Up first, a briefing on the history of the DMZ in a theater. Some GIs hopped onto the bus after that and spilled whatever military secrets they were allowed to. After that, in no particular order, an observation post, a train station, a walk down a tunnel, the blue negotiation shacks (above), our first sighting of the Northerners, a gift shop, dinner, and back to Seoul.

It wasn't particularly interesting, unless you have a thing for army camps (not much military equipment lying around, though). Do you know the phrase 'once in a lifetime experience', which is often used by travel agencies promoting their tours? It's not an understatement- once a lifetime really is enough, though I don't think they meant it that way. This visit, by the way, was particularly memorable for coinciding with North Korea's third underground nuclear test. It didn't bother me much, but everyone back home was irrationally excited.
The next day. After a walk to the nearby COEX mall, supposedly one of the largest underground malls in Asia- which was mostly closed as it was still rather early- we headed back to the touristy spot whose name I really can't recall now that I'm entering the final lap of writing this post- but whatever, enough rambling.

Another bit of Korean food to try out. We made a beeline for a restaurant specializing in porridge (or congee?). The menu was simple enough, and came with English for once. Porridge with this, porridge with that. It couldn't be any simpler. We still bungled up though. Sister ordered a chicken ginseng porridge, since it was the only one with chicken in it- and got sick as a result, not being used to it. Progress was slow after that. Back on point. Luckily, the restaurant had samgyetang as well, which we meant to try. It wasn't much to shout about- being rather similar to Chinese herbal chicken soup. Which I hate. The only interesting variation was that the chicken was stuffed with some sort of glutinous rice.

Slow progress after lunch. We hit some shopping malls before calling it a day, and headed back to the hotel after a few more hours- sister wasn't in any condition to walk around. Some of the others weren't feeling too good either. Interestingly enough most of us were sick for some reason during this trip- mostly stomach related. I had a headache and a light fever for a day- though I took some time to notice the fever itself. Probably a side-effect of the cold weather. We had dinner in a Vietnamese (cuisine) restaurant across the road- the pad thai (eh.) being the best meal I'd had since the beginning of the trip.
I'm skipping the next day. We traipsed around, where to I can no longer remember. Progress was slow due to everyone being sick or recovering from sickness (I myself having been sick but failing to notice it- travel adrenaline and responsibility for the group having pushed any symptoms somewhere else). We finally managed to fulfill one group member's puzzling (in my opinion) desire to visit Ewha Girl's University- which I'd been to previously and found to have a rather pretty building, but nothing much else. 

That night we gathered our bags and took a taxi to a small town(?) near the airport. I suppose you could call it an airport town. Heck, it probably is called 'Airport Town'. Slight panic ensued when, having split into two taxis, my taxi, the first to arrive, got lost near the town- and the second taxi arrived much later, probably having gotten lost too. Everyone having arrived, we had dinner in a promising but ultimately disappointing restaurant (screwing up at ordering again). We were close enough to the beach (about 1.5km), and I thought of going there for a stroll, but cold and weariness put that thought out of my mind. After breakfast the next day, we headed for the airport- for an udon lunch and frenzied last minute souvenir shopping.

p.s. We flew back by Korean Air. So the stewardesses were pretty, alright (though one might be entitled to doubt their naturality), but the food was disappointingly horrible. I don't understand why we didn't riot in mid-air. Maybe it was the ice cream they served for dessert...

p.s.s. Don't ask me what that title means. A month long gap between the first and last paragraph does that- don't be surprised. 


  1. That food looks sparse...not travel guide ready :(

    1. I didn't enjoy the food much... just not my kind of diet.
      Definitely not what I'd want to put in a travel guide :P