(I started writing this on the 16th but actually didn’t get around to finishing it until the 25th since I’ve been pretty busy lately.)
After writing the last post, checking my e-mail, and talking to a few people online from the PC Bang, I headed out back into the streets of Seoul. Across the street there was a Dunkin’ Donuts, a chain I haven’t seen since my trip to Chicago in May of 2006. They’re all over the place in Seoul. I checked out what they had, and since it was so late the selection was pretty poor. No donut for me. I then head to the nearest train station, Dongmyo. I had apparently walked far enough from Dongdaemun station to reach a different one. Anyway, I head downstairs and notice that the crowd is pretty much nonexistent. But there were still a few businessmen-looking guys waiting for the train, so I figured everything was still running. I was golden. I then noticed that there was a station attendant talking to one of these few waiting guys, and there was also some kind of announcement. Of course this was all in Korean so I had no idea what was going on. I now realize that they were probably saying something like “This is the last train. If you don’t get on this train, you’re on your own. Especially you, American tourist.” And that summarizes the rest of Saturday night.
I get on the purple line train and ride it 1 stop to Dongdaemun, where I figure I can transfer to the light-blue line and begin my journey back home to the hotel, which is near Cheongdam station. If this were not at a quarter to midnight, I would have been right. But, being so late, the trains were now done, so I had no choice but to exit the station along with the rest of the suckers who were trying in vain to get on the light-blue line. I was now back on the street near Dongdaemun, which seemed less amazing the second time now that I was realizing I had no trains back to my hotel, which wasn’t that close to my station. Please look at this map to see where I was, and where I needed to be (follow the arrow down):
To be honest, I didn’t know, and really still don’t know, how big Seoul is compared to Tokyo. But I was, just for mental calculation’s sake, imagining them to be similar in size, meaning I would have to take a taxi pretty far. And, still being in Japan mode, a far cab ride meant tons of money to me, maybe over 100 bucks USD. Please also note at this point in time I was carrying only a 10,000 won bill (about 10 USD) and some change. I thus walked around for a bit looking for some kind of ATM with a Cirrus or Plus logo, which of course I didn’t find. I then went into some convenience store, and miraculously I was able to withdraw 100 USD from my US account. I don’t think I can even do this in Japan. But, I now had money. Walked around a bunch trying to figure out where to get a cab. Found a somewhat busy intersection and stopped a cab after it dropped off some people. At this point I realized the cabs that say “Free Interpretation” don’t mean the driver speaks English, but rather they have some internal phone line you can call that will provide you with an interpreter. Or something. I didn’t bother.
After showing 2 cab drivers my hotel key and saying “Ri-bi-e-ra?” and receiving angry or confused waves of the hand, I finally found a guy who knew it. Off we go! I then noticed that the initial cab fare was like 1280 won, around $1.50. Compare this to the initial Japanese cab fare of 660 yen, about 6 USD. Way cheap. So my Korean taxi driver is zipping around the late night streets of Seoul, flying down highways, across the river, and finally to my hotel. The drive took around 25 or 30 minutes, and the grand total was 14400 won. 14 bucks for a 30 minute cab drive?! I was shocked, happy, and happy again because I didn’t have to drop a bill on a cab ride because I spent too much time in an internet cafe. I didn’t really even need any of the money I withdrew from the ATM!
I awoke Sunday morning refreshed and ready to get some serious sightseeing in. First stop was Gyeongbok-gung, the former Korean imperial palace. I actually took a cab to get there, which cost only about 15000 won again and saved me the hassle of transferring on a bunch of subway lines. Cheap taxis are amazing, and make you feel like you’re rich. Anyway, what I had thought would be a fairly easy temple viewing ended up being a full-day excursion because I didn’t realize how big the grounds are for this place. It’s not just 1 main building, but rather a huge area with several temples, buildings, museums, and gardens. To make a long story short, I spend the entire afternoon at the palace and one of the museums inside. As you can see from the picture here taken by some random German tourist whom I at first thought was an American, it is very similar to Chinese or Japanese temples. But the mountain view in the background was pretty sweet. This is just the first major gate before heading towards the body of this massive complex.
After Gyeongbok, ate some awesome bibimbap for lunch and chilled in a coffee shop while it rained. Luckily I wasn’t in the rain much all day since it started while I was eating lunch, and it at least made the weather on Sunday much better than the humid head we’d been having here in Asia. I walked around downtown Seoul for a few hours, noticing how much western influence there was. Seoul seemed to have more American franchises than Japan even, but I think it’s probably about the same. Just different ones. After that, I did some more souvenir shopping near Nandaemun again, even buyiing some K-glasses that I am not stylish enough to wear. However, eyeglasses in Korea really are super cheap; I got some prescription glasses for 50000 won, made in about 10 minutes by some Korean guy who had lived in LA growing up and thus sounded like a Hispanic gangster. He said the glasses I got made me “look like an O.G.” What a sales pitch.
Unfortunately by the time I got back to the south side of Seoul, it was too late so I couldn’t check out the huge COEX Mall. I was able to eat a huge sukiyaki/yakiniku hybrid for dinner, and watched The Queen on my giant LCD TV. I then packed, with the inside of my suitcase almost exclusively containing Korean seaweed for myself and for friends as souvenirs.