A Travellerspoint blog

South Korea

University on a Friday Night


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Today I got up and explored the pool. It's full-length (25m I think) and they have all the kickboards, swimming caps, and other such stuff you might need. It was pretty crowded for early morning, but I guess a lot of people at the hotel have to work and want to get their exersize in early.

I'm happy to report that the breakfast sandwich I had from Cafe Mamas was soo much better than the salad from last night. I also had delicious lunch. We went to the cafeteria on campus near the bowling alley and barber shop. (You know that you're working for a big company when they have their own bowling alley.) The choices here were Baskin Robbins, a sandwich place, and a Korean snackbar. I think I surprised our local host when I beelined for the Koran. I ended up with noodles in sauce. The noodles are sort of like rice gnocchi or ziti without the hole. They're the same ones they added to the soup yesterday. The sauce was even spicier than yesterday though. In order to keep my nose from being too runny, I had to neutralize it with some blueberry milk. BTW, blueberry milk is even better than strawberry milk.

The only other thing of general interest that I can report about work: the toilets. Before I came, I was warned not to use the toilets in the fab. They were supposed to be horrible, but sometimes you just deal. The only thing bad was how unsophisticated they made me feel. I didn't know what any of the dozen buttons did. I'm reasonably sure one created some sort of spray (maybe like a bidet) and that one created air (maybe like a bowling alley hand dryer), but I was too much of a wimp to try them all out.

Meanwhile, over by the sink, there was a stack of toothpaste boxes with toothbrushes sticking out. Clearly hygiene is a priority here.

After work, we got smart. Instead of getting a cab back (2 hours in traffic) or a cab to the subway (1 hour in traffic + 15 mins subway), we just got basically straight on to the subway (5 mins + 55 mins subway, even with just missing the train and having to wait for another.) Also, I came prepared. I didn't need to stop at the hotel to drop off/pick up stuff. I just bypassed that entirely and heaed straight out.

Of course, the trains were not as empty as previous times I rode. They were packed. What I found adorable was that after they were packed, the people left outside to await the next train all lined up nicely in front of the doors until the next train came. It's all so polite and efficient.
Nice lines on the subway

Nice lines on the subway


I arrived in the university area and headed for the Trickeye Museum. The Ice Museum ticket came free with that, so I went there too. The ice museum is basically an indoor playground made of ice. There's an ice slide to slide down, an igloo to crawl through, and plenty of photo ops- if there's somebody there to take them. It was certainly cute, but not really worth it if it wasn't free or a super hot day.
The Trickeye museum is also not as much fun without people to take pictures of you. The whole idea is they painted scenes that you can insert yourself into and take a picture as if you are part of the scene. Some scenes were doable with the timer function of a camera, but many weren't. Also, it gets old quickly if you're not a huge fan of getting your picture taken. Even though it's clearly more fun in a group, I don't think that it would be worth the price even then.
Ice Museum

Ice Museum


Trickeye Museum

Trickeye Museum


At the end, they had a bunch of virtual reality games. If you've never played one, that's probably worth trying.

It's Friday night and the museum is in the university area. The whole place is jumping. So many buskers and street singers line the avenue that their crowds blend together. Standing at any given point, I could clearly hear at least 2, if not more, street musicians at once, music clashing together and competing for attention. Of course, all these crowds mean the shops are doing great business. The restaurants are all packed and so much of the street food smells great. I started at a Topokki place, mainly to figure out what Topokki is. Apparently that's the name for the big rice noodles/gnocchi thing I've been having daily.

I ended up getting cheese rice topped with nori, and enjoying their pickle bar. The pickles were delicious, although I'm not really sure what veggies they were originally. I'll admit, cheese and nori is not the first combination that I'd think of, but they're good together. This is something I'd make at home.

I continued on, stubling across a churro shop. With oreo churros. They are as good as they sound.

I enjoyed more of the crowds and street performances, including a marching band, before heading back.

Posted by spsadventures 12:59 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Kimchi Soup


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I promised a note about the breakfast I picked up last night- it was ok, but nothing special.

Today, we started our install.

I can't generalize based on this one day at this one factory, but from what I saw, Korea is just as modern as any other industrialized nation. The factory had just as many (if not more) safety procedures in place for the protection of the workers. It has hi-tech security (it is a hi-tech company after all). Unfortunately, that means that I couldn't take any pictures. So I'll do my best to describe it.

The campus itself is a cross between a college campus and a factory. It has the super-clean fakeness feel that college campuses have. The sidewalks are wide because most people just walk. They clearly spend big money having all of the gardens and greenery maintained. The intra-campus bus makes a quiet circle around the campus. And there are several eateries for the campus "residents" to lunch at.

But, other than the buildings that look like offices or even classrooms (from the outside), there are also some huge windowless concrete structures. These stadium-sized buildings are just as clean as everything else, but they have freight elevators. They have steam stacks. They are clearly industrial.

We spent most of the morning outside on the sidewalk. The trees have leaves that look like gingko, but apparently aren't gingko trees. The workers had cordoned off the unloading area, and several "safety officers" were set up around the area. The whole area under the crane and for a reasonable radius around it was permanently blocked off. But when the crane was in use, they didn't even let people pass the neaby passage way. It's apparently this guys whole job to wave orange batons at people to prevent them from walking too close to the crane- talk about investment in safety.

When we were finished unloading everything, it was lunch time- the best part of the day.

We walked to a nearby shopping area that was filled with eateries. I had told our local contact how much I adore kimchi soup, and he didn't dissapoint.

The restaurant we went into was set up somewhat like a fondue restaurant- there was a huge plate with an active gas burner under it at every table. Some people were getting life stir-fry of some sort, but we got kimchi soup.

As the gas heated up the soup, the waiters came by to prepare it right at our table. First, they used scissors to cut up a whole kimchi-ed cabbage right in the soup. Then, they broke up several blocks of tofu in the soup. They popped a package of ramen-style noodles into the soup. Lastly, they dropped these fat rice noodles with amazing mouthfeel into the soup. It was bubbling and boiling away, and time ot eat!

I thought it was a good level of spicy- my nose was a bit sniffly, but not majorly runny. My lips felt just a touch of fire and were burning for a short time after. But I have to brag a bit, the native Korean I was eating with had a much snifflier nose, and he was cutting the soup with rice and a variety of sides that they had put around the table. I was straight up downing the soup.
kimchi

kimchi


I was in heaven.

Did I mention that I adore kimchi soup?

We went back to work and suited up for the clean room, which was interesting. I am average height... for an American male. Unfortunately, they have separate gowning rooms here for men and women, even though the bunny suits go over your clothes like they do everywhere. So, I put on my women's super-duper 3XL that I barely could fit into, and met the guys on the far side of the gowning room, and had them pull a larger size from the men's gowning room.

For those unfamiliar with bunny suits- it's as if coveralls met a burka. You're covered from head to toe, with only your eyes showing. Mouth and nose are covered by a mask, hands are covered by gloves, shoes have special covers, and of course there's the full-body jumper with hood.

Once we got that situated, we did as much work as we could before we left for the day.

The traffic back was HORRIBLE. We ultimately had the cab stop at a metro station and just metroed back to the hotel. It would have taken hours longer to sit in traffic.

As is, I didn't have much time this evening. I grabbed a pretty horrible salad from Cafe Mamas. I thought it would be interesting because it had sweet Asian pumpkin on it, the dressing was some kind of orange something, and it had some mustard greens in it. It was interesting I suppose, but mostly just not good. The bread was light and fluffy though.

I had to get some work done, so I didn't really get a chance to go out. Even if I had, the chances of whatever I'd see being more exciting than the kimchi soup at lunch are slim to none. BUT I did get a chance to make plans for other evenings and days. I'm looking forward to my weekend trip to the DMZ, and I put all the info in my phone for several in-Seoul sights so that I can go straight there after work and not have to stop by the hotel first (assuming I leave my laptop here.)

Posted by spsadventures 12:55 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Old Seoul


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This morning, I got up to run. There is a very nice park by the hotel, but first I wanted to get my bearings. In an outward spiral, circling the hotel several times, I figured out what my landmarks will be and what I can't use as a landmark. Example- there is a GS gas station on every corner, so that won't help me get home if I'm lost. I also got to see the outsides of some of the malls from yesterday, so that helped a bit with the orientation as well.
View from Marriott

View from Marriott


I have to say, that even though many signs have English on them, I'm really glad that I started learning the Korean alphabet before I got here. While visually it looks more like Chinese, it is read more like English in that every symbol/letter has a sound, as opposed to a meaning. While I can't say anything other than hello, yes, no, please, and thank you in Korean, I can read place names somewhat easily. Street names, subway stops, and other such signs where you don't have to know "meaning" just the sounds are so much easier to follow. If you're coming here for a while, it's definitely worth it just to learn the alphabet.

For breakfast, I tried to get back to the mall with the food court, but somehow ended up in a different mall altogether. It had a bakery with a few interesting items, so I ate there. I'm learning the system- you take a tray and a set of tongs, go over to the food. Use the tongs to put the items you want on your tray, and then take it all to the register to pay.

Once we gave the cab driver the correct address, the ride to work was somewhat uneventful. The ride back though, had a lot of traffic. Google said that the last few miles of our trip was going to take 45 minutes. I'm not sure it would have taken that long to walk. So, we pulled off the highway and went to a subway station.

I got my T-card (~$3). It's the Korean transportation card- fill it up and then tap it to pay a discounted price on transport. (Plus, it's more convenient than haveing to constantly buy 1-time tickets.)

The subway is so clean- it almost reminds me of an airport inter-terminal train. Even during rush hour, it wasn't over-crowded. it was actually pleasant to use.
Clean Subway

Clean Subway


After grabbing lunch- some cheese-and-something-else (maybe sweet potato?)-stuffed spring-roll style wrappers (steamed, not fried), and dropping my work stuff in the hotel room, I raced back out.

We had finished work a bit early today, so I figured this was one of my only chances to get to see the sights that close earlier. I metroed to Anguk station and went to the closest palace- Changdeokgung Palace.
Palace

Palace


This palace is a UNESCO world heritage sight, and I think it deserves that. It's from the Joseon Dynasty, and there are a few signs around (English, Korean, +) that explain what areas were used by which royals for what. The amazing part though is the palace itself. Parts of it reminded me of Earth Kingdom from Avatar the Last Airbender. Parts of it reminded me of some of the palaces we saw in China (which obviously influenced this palace). And in an odd way, parts reminded me of the Vatican and other such over-decorated cathedrals. The style wasn't European, but the abundance of art was. Each building was covered in bright paintings. Roofs had carvings reminiscent of gargoyles. Some roofs had each and every pole terminated in an intricate carving. Really, just look at the pictures. It was beautiful.
Inside Palace

Inside Palace

Dojo-like area of palace

Dojo-like area of palace

Palace

Palace


Palace

Palace

Palace

Palace

Palace

Palace


Palace garden

Palace garden

Palace garden

Palace garden

Palace Roofwork

Palace Roofwork

Shoes at Palace

Shoes at Palace

taking pictures in traditional clothing

taking pictures in traditional clothing


I stayed until closing time, when started kicking everybody out with some nice music.

Several other sights that closed later were high on my list and in the area, so I made my way through Insadong towards them.

Insadong is a great little artist street. Tons of tiny shops sell a wide variety of crafts- from hand-made paper cards, intracately decorated cloths, and hand-painted dishes, to huge antique stone statues. Walking down the street was sort of like walking through a free art museum.
Home Decor for sale

Home Decor for sale

Old Area

Old Area


And then I got to the mall containing Poopoo Land. The mall continued in the art theme- the stairweels are called "galleries" because they contain a bunch of artistic pictures of models in funky "clothes." (Reminded me more of the wearable art fashion shows.) The other stores have lots of bright, unique goods.

But Poopoo land is different. I thought it would be juvenile fun, but I have to say don't waste your money on it. It's more or less a carnival funhouse- a room with a funky floor, places you have to crawl, a dark room to feel your way though, a room of balls to work around, and a big slide at the end. On the way, there are stairs that make fart noises when you step on them, a few scenes where you can take toilet-themed pictures (sitting on the royal chamber pot, or your head in a urinal, for example), and a few plastic butts to touch so they make noise. But, the butts were a fraction of the exhibit. If you have kids and somehow get a half-price coupon, it might be worth the 10 minutes. Otherwise, even if you're a poop/fart/butt fan, I can't recommend it.
Stairs at Poop Museum

Stairs at Poop Museum


Fortunately, Poopoo Land is near the temple.

The Jogyesa Temple is beautiful. The gardens surrounding it contain tons ofo huge lotus flowers. The whole scene is this island of serenity inside a bustling city. I was fortunate enough to be there when some actual praying was going on. The sound was beautiful. I loved it as much as I love mosque calls to prayer.
At the temple

At the temple


Temple gardens

Temple gardens

Temple

Temple


After my temple visit, I stopped at the temple stay visitors' center. This building contains 2 restaurants. I started at the 5th floor restaurant, as that one was mentioned in a guide I have. But that restaurant has a Michelin star, so it was a bit out of my price range. On the other hand, the 2nd floor restaurant was extremely well-priced. $10 got me kimchi soup with a bunch of small sides. I came away very full, and unable to finish it all.

I adore kimchi soup.

This soup was different than Kim's kimchi soup (which will always be my reference) in that it had mushrooms and some other things in it other than just kimshee and tofu. But the taste was the same and it was delicious! My nose wasn't quite as runny afterwards as it always was after Kim's soup, but that could be due to the sides and not the spice level.

In case I hadn't mentioned it- I adore kimchi soup.

There's a good chance I'd go back to the same restaurant again and get the exact same thing.

During the walk back to the metro station, I noticed that Insadong does not shut down at night- it wakes up. The little shops were still all open, but now street vendors had lined some areas and were offering even more foods and goods.

I also grabbed some breakfast for tomorrow at a bakery. I'll let you know how it is then.

Posted by spsadventures 07:17 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Welcome to Seoul!


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Welcome to Seoul!

But first, a bit about Korean Air. My flight was delayed at the connection point. They gave out free meal vouchers for a 2-hour delay. That was pleasant.

The in-flight meal and entertainment weren't much, but they did have decent toothpaste and a toothbrush as well as slippers in the in-flight goodie bag.

Generally though, they were no better or worse than any other airline.

I landed and went through immigration as you would in any country. And then the luxury began.

For those who read my blog- you know that I regularly stay in $9/night (or less) hostels. I'm on a business trip, so I got a bit of an upgrade- the JW Marriott.

Somebody met me with one of those signs with my name on it. She allowed me a quick detour to the ATM, and then walked me to my driver. The car was roomy and quiet, had free bottled water and wifi, and was sparkling clean.

The drive in the rain was calm and relaxing. I tried to pay attention to all of the city skylines we were passing- Incheon to Seoul, but I was so comfy I fell asleep.

I awoke for the latter part of the journey and got a glimpse of the city near the hotel. It seems like any modern city to me.

The hotel itself is gorgeous. It's huge and grand, with all sorts of amenities. The room is very large, with a full desk area and separate sitting area. The bathroom is rather large, with both a shower (head has all sorts of different settings) and a tub. I got a free fruit tray becasue I'm staying so long. The bathroom toiletries went beyond the usual soaps, to a full sewing kit with scissors, some sort of dental kit, and a comb, among other items. For use at the hotel, there are slippers and a robe. even the desk has more than just paper and pens- it has a stapler, paper clips, and a fancy shmancy ruler.

Somebody went to a lot of trouble to thing of everything somebody might want and making it happen.

I dropped off my stuff, and immediately went out to hunt for food. It was still raining outside, but I had been told that there was a food court in the mall that adjoins the hotel.

Mall is an understatement.

This is a full labyrinth.
Mall

Mall


First, you pass through the ritzy stores- places that only allow one customer at a time, places where I can't even afford the free samples, places where the least expensive item in the store costs more than my typical vacation. Past those, you hit a mall with still out-of-range stores, but also a little food court that does have affordable food (other than the Dean & Deluca, or course.) I circled the food court multiple time taking it all in. I knew I didn't want Johnny Rockets, Indian, or pizza on my first night in Korea, but I couldn't decide between the rest of the choices. Partly, I just didn't know what most of the stuff was as it was only labeled in Korean. Because it's right by the hotel, I figure I can go there all the time and don't have to get everything on the first night.
Octopus-ready to eat!

Octopus-ready to eat!

Squid ink bread sandwiches

Squid ink bread sandwiches

Sushi pigs-in-a-blanket

Sushi pigs-in-a-blanket


Ultimately, I got some sort of puffy potatoes on a stick (everything is better on a stick), some sort of rice dough that was filled with a substance similar to cheese whiz, and some inari sushi.

I kept walking though, becuase I wanted to see even more.

The food court somehow dropped me into some sort of underground mall that was kilometers long. The mall had tons of clothing shops, home good shops, fake flower shops, art shops, and anything else you can think of, including its own food court. It also connects to the subway station and at least a few other shopping centers.
Face masks

Face masks


When the shopkeepers started packing up, I realized that I was wonderfully lost. I hadn't set a foot outside, but all of these underground malls connected together in one crazy labyrinth and I was not so close to the hotel.
More Mall

More Mall


I asked for directions back to the hotel. The directions started with "walk 400m in that direction," then, I had to use an exit to connect to some other mall. then from there to the food court. (Detour to the grocery store to pick up some snacks for the room.) Then back to the fancy mall. Then up some levels. Then ask for directions again. Then down some side hallway. Finally, I got back to the hotel.

It didn't seem like much, but I had been walking around the malls for several hours. I'm not a mall person, and wasn't really looking to buy stuff (other than food), but I did find it interesting to explore a bit and people watch.

Tomorrow, hopefully the rain will stop and I'll see more of the city outside.

Posted by spsadventures 06:29 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

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