Our 3-day weekend (thanks to Children's Day) was chock-full of fun and entertainment! We departed from Busan early Saturday morning, taking the high-speed KTX train to Seoul. The train was nice and comfortable, as well as quite fast - it took around 2.5 hours to cross South Korea. We had a dual agenda in Seoul: first to have a Cornell reunion with Sunny and two other Korean exchange students - Juyoung & Min; second to attend the "2nd Annual World DJ Festival" and get some quality dancing in :-).
We got to Seoul early in the afternoon, and met Sunny and Juyoung at the train station. Juyoung hadn't changed a bit, and is still her smart, sweet self - she's currently studying to be a diplomat! Our first stop was at a subway Krispie Kream donut shop, where we met one of Sunny's friends for some donuts. His (appropriate) nickname is Na-Nold, since he looks like a Korean Arnold Schwarzenegger! The donuts were quite delicious, particularly since we got a free hot glazed donut fresh out of the oven. We then made our way to our hostel, the Windflower, which we'd found on Hostel World, an amazing bargain at only $10/bed/night. It was in one way an average hostel, but excellent value and we really only needed a comfortable place to sleep, which we definitely got.
Juyoung had to go to an English class, so we went on a lengthy walk with Sunny, first to the nearby palace Changgyeonggung, one of the five remaining palaces in Seoul. It is surrounded by an extensive park and garden area, so it is a very peaceful and calming place. We then walked over to Insadong, an extensive shopping area that is quite famous. We had perfect timing, as we ran into an oncoming street festival! It was a festival featuring a variety of dancers and music, plus plenty of costumes and Buddhas, since it was sponsored by a variety of Buddhist monasteries. We then met up with Min, the 3rd Korean Cornellian, which was quite shocking since has changed quite a bit. She not only lost weight, but now has long hair, not to mention that she is married a recent mother!
We re-met up with Juyoung, and had a delicious and wonderful Korean dinner, chatting and laughing as we ate a tasty mushroom and rice meal. After dinner we met Min's husband and their baby son, who Liz kept entertained. From there we headed across town to the Han River, where Seoul's "2nd Annual World DJ Festival." The festival was quite large, with 4 stages and thousands of people in attendance. The music was great, with Rabbit In The Moon as the headliner. We also saw some good Korean and Japanese DJs, and the crowd was quite responsive to all the artists, so even techno rookies Sunny and Juyoung had a fantastic time. We also ran into a lot of friends from Busan, and even Peter Strutt (yet another Cornellian), who teaches English in Incheon! Our night ended speedily, as we took a high-speed taxi ride across Seoul and back to the hostel, cruising through the city streets Formula 1 style...
Our first priority on Sunday was a Mexican lunch, so we took the subway to Itaewon, another foreigner area (due to a US Army base located there). Panchos' was authentic in the Tex-Mex variety, and the fajitas were top-notch. Since Mexican food is definitely our favorite, the relatively high price for food (since it's "foreign" in Korea) was well-worth the taste-bud explosion we all experienced. From there we hit up another of Seoul's palaces, Gyeongbok Palace, which was the main and largest of Joseon dynasty's Five Grand Palaces. It is an extensive area, walking just one side of the large square park takes around 10 minutes. We took plenty of photos (of course :-), wandered around the peaceful palace, before hitting up the adjacent Folk Art Museum. The museum was nice and modern, and had a lot of interesting displays on Korea's past, including the first drawn map of Korea, recreations of traditional food and housing, and some very interesting traditional clothing displays. The Korean love of headgear definitely goes back countless centuries!
We met up with our co-teacher Blaise and his friend Jon (visiting from Japan where he is a public school English teacher) for dinner, at a tasty pork/kimchi restaurant. Blaise stayed at our hostel as well, we'd just been on different time schedules while in Seoul, so we kept missing each other up until then. After dinner we had some scrumptious Cold Stone Creamery ice cream for dessert, before returning to our hostel. While saying our goodbyes to Juyoung, her hostel-bed replacement arrived, Anika, a nice girl from Germany who had just spent six months backpacking around New Zealand. She then joined us for a night out drinking and chatting at a local bar, where we sampled a new-to-us rice wine, in addition to our usual favorites daenamu-tongsul (bamboo liquor) and maekju (beer).
Monday we had a tasty lunch of cow-bone soup (tasted better than it sounded), which like many Korean soups is "good for a hangover" - which it was. For our last stop as tourists in Seoul we headed to the Seoul Tower, a lookout point high above the city. It was a nice place to relax, and we even got some hackysacking in (thank Jon), before saying goodbye to Seoul and Sunny. We'll be seeing Sunny next weekend for Buddha's Birthday (another 3-day weekend), since we are going to her hometown of Jeonju to meet her family, but we may not get back to Seoul until Anderson's parents come to visit in late July.
We rode a deluxe bus back with Blaise and Jon, which was very comfortable, so we got a short nap in, and due to a lack of traffic the trip took almost exactly 4 hours. We then introduced Jon to the "Korean hotdog" - kimbap, better known as a veg sushi-roll, and to our favorite local pub Mister Seven. All-in-all a fabulous weekend, we really couldn't have done more, or had more fun, if we had of tried!
This week at school will undoubtedly fly by, and we are definitely excited to see Sunny again this coming Saturday. Pictures are currently being uploaded to our photo site, so feel free to check them out when you've got some time,
Anderson & Liz