My trainingmates from day one in Korea and I were all finally able to get the same weekend off and spent all of Saturday and Sunday stomping around Seoul. Meeting up at Seoul Station, Jenny from Daegu and Jennifer from Pyeongtaek, ditched our daybags in a locker (after spending $6 in change just trying to figure out the stupid thing) and headed to Itaewon, Seoul’s westerner-run neighborhood, famous for it’s foreigner-friendly restaurants, shops and bars. There was an international food festival while we were there and the biggest crowd in Korea I’d ever seen! It was so strange hearing English everywhere we went and having to watch what we said around people again :p
While Jennifer headed to an appointment, Jenny and I went for shopping and supper in Shinsadong, Seoul’s upscale fashion strip where young up-and-coming designers set up shop. There are also all these little eclectic coffee shops whittled in between boutiques. We ended up focusing most of our money on eating at a hole-in-the-wall Korean BBQ joint though, which was just fine by me.
With a bottle of soju under arm, we met back up with Jennifer and took a cab to Yeouido Island to sit by the historic Han River. In my excitement over $3 Guinesses, I forgot to grab fireworks at the convenience store (it’s nothing to buy some Roman candles here and take them to the streets). Luckily at the river, an old woman came up to us and sold us some sparklers to make the night complete.
What felt like just a few minutes of talk was actually three hours of story-telling. We only noticed a change in time because of how cold we were getting, so the girls and I took to the warmth of a jjimjilbang for the night. I wasn’t thrilled to be going to a jjimjilbang with two girls I had only known for a week, three months ago, but after our full day of walking all over Seoul, I was too tired to care. At 4AM Jenny and Jennifer stayed up to make their way through the variety of heated rooms in the seven story spa, while I searched smelly room after smelly room, for a place to sleep before finally collapsing in a bunk.
I don’t know how or why people sleep in jjimjilbangs over night instead of finding a cheap hotel. Koreans are not quiet people. And seldom at night are they sober, so the sleeping quarters were constantly disturbed with bursts of women cackling or drunken men shouting nonsense into the doors. When my phone died, I didn’t want to risk sleeping through the day without being able to get a call from one of the girls so I grabbed a towel and headed for the public baths.
At least I didn’t have to look over my should the entire time, hoping one of them wouldn’t come through the doors. Just me and fifty scowling old ladies in a huge, mirrored water hall. And not a one of them made an effort to at least pretend they weren’t staring right at me. But the shower was nice and hot and I was just starting to warm up from the night out in the cold, so I stood tall and took my time. There was one other non-Korean there, I noticed. She was Asian but I know she was American, because like me she attempted to cover herself when we passed each other. Shame. Dead giveaway. Koreans don’t have any.
I think she dented her head on the locker, Jenny jumped so quick, when I found her back in the dressing room. She and Jennifer had gone in separately after not being able to sleep either. We made our way passed rows of lounging naked ladies, some eating a bowl of ice cream in their lap, other watching the news, then went to turn in our robes and straight out the door for some coffee.
First, there was the Doonsan Bears baseball game to go to, but unlike a major win or loss in the States, no radio, TV station or website had anything to say about the Bears losing and not making it to the next playoff game. So we snapped a few photos around the stadium and got back on the subway for the next thing.
I had already been to Gyeongbokgung Palace once last year and then again this August when my stepdad was here, but Jenny and Jennifer needed to go and it was a beautiful place to spend the morning.
I found the Secret Garden that I failed to show Tim and his co-spies when they were here, but I’ve since learned the lay of the land and only had to circle the girls around three other courtyards before falling upon it.
We got our favorite jigaes (hot soups) near the palace and walked to Kyobo Bookstore where I could get a good travel book. After I finally settled on travel logistics over travel history and picked up a great book on the Korean War, we made our way to Dongdaemun Market, near the city’s East Gate.
Six dollars more in change to retrieve our things from the locker, then a quick dinner at a Korean restaurant in Seoul Station and the three of us were ready to take our trains home. A pretty great weekend.