A Travellerspoint blog

South Korea

Lotte Adventure World


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Today, we went to a porridge restaurant for lunch. They serve big bowls of rice porridge (like congee but thicker) with various "mix ins." I got a spicy one, but many weren't. Because the porridge comes out in a huge, steaming bowl, you have to first put it in a small bowl, then let it cool, then you can eat it. Therefore, Koreans call this "slow food."It was ok, but the servings were big enough for at least 2 people.

We finished work a bit earlier than usual today, so I had a reasonable amount of time to go to Lotte Adventure World, an indoor theme park in a mall- not too different than Mall of America.
Trevi Fountain in the mall

Trevi Fountain in the mall


Of course, from the subway, first you have to wade through a shopping mall in order to get to the park. It seemed the same as any mall anywhere.

But, on the way to the park, I passed Hoophoop, a bagel bakery. They had lots of interesting flavors- like red bean- but I opted for the oreo peanut butter. It looked to me like they had made some sort of oreo bagel, put peanut butter on it, and bagged it. I was gloriously wrong. These bagels are stuffed (think jelly donut-no hole in the middle). My bagel had all of the proper chewiness of the dough, but was filled with crumbled oreaos and peanut butter. It was the most delicilus bagel I have ever had in my life. Move over Einstein Bros, Chesapeake, and NY. Hoophoop has the secret.
Amazing Bagels

Amazing Bagels


I'm noticing that some of the tourist attractions have deals where if you use a certain brand credit card, you get an automatic discount. Nanta was Visa. Lotte World is Mastercard. I'm going to make sure to ask at all similar places from now on. I also got a discount for going in after 4, so I saved quite a bit over the full price.

Like any amusement park, it's a bit overwhelming upon entering. You go into immediate sensor overload. Lights blink and flash. Each area has a completely different artistic or archetectural style- from ancient Greece to an Austrian Village to kids cartoon land to an ice rink. The smells waft in- meat on a stick, cotton candy, baked goods, soup. And you can hear the clangs of people playing arcade games, the chatter of the other revelers, the whoosh of the roller coaster, the screams of excitement. It's just so much to take in.
Lotte World

Lotte World


Like any amusement park, many of the rides had long lines, although for some I could just hop right on. I didn't wait in any hour-long lines, but I did my share of waiting, especially for the bumper cars. I really enjoyed the river ride throuh the jungle. The dragon shooting game ride was quite fun, although I was competing with myself. And the art for the Pharoah ride was amazing.
Bumper Card

Bumper Card


I tried to go to the cultural museum (what's an amusement park without a history museum), but it had closed early. I only glimpsed some of the shows on the main stage, but from what I saw, it looked entertaining. I rode as many rides as I could before they started shutting them down. So I grabbed second dinner when there wasn't much left to do.

I ordered ramen, expecting soup. I got something like bibimbap, but with ramen noodles where the rice would be. I'm really liking this whole "mix it yourself" deal with all the vegetables and hot sauce.

On the way back to the subway station, I passed Lotte Mart. We actually had a Lotte grocery store near one of the places I lived in the states. It was somewhat similar to the grocery store here, but the grocery store here also had home goods.
Lotte Mart

Lotte Mart


I found all sorts of exciting vegetables- like ginseng- but I can't really cook at the hotel (other than in my teapot). I did pick up some interesting snacks- mangosteen juice, coleslaw popcorn, green tea kitkat- as well as lots of hot pepper paste to take home. I hope to have enough hot paste to make kimchi and bibimbap for quite some time.

Posted by spsadventures 21:59 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

NANTA show and FOOOOOOD


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Breakfast yesterday came from a convenience store the night before. I thought I was getting uncrustables, but the fillings were peanutbutter CREAM and strawberry CREAM, not actual peanut butter and jelly. They were ok, but I prefer bolder flavors.

My plans were to go to the National Museum on the one night it's open late, but this is a work trip. Work comes first, and we got done really late.

It was a long enough day at work that by the time we got back to the hotel, the food court was completely closed. Jonny Rocket's was about the only thing open, and I'd actually never eaten at one, so I gave it a try. It tasted American.

Today, I had a bit more luck. While breakfast was a Marriott red bean cake- not so exciting, lunch was a yummy bibimbap that was similar to the one from the other day, but with different vegetables.

Dinner was awesome!

I got off the subway at the Myeong-Dong station, not knowing that this is a major street market location. On my way to the evening's plans, I passed tons of street vendors selling everything from clothes to food.

And what food they had!
Fresh cooking

Fresh cooking


I saw all sorts of meat-on-a-stick, fried sweet potato, lobster taco-like things, octopus, honeycomb, topokki, kimbap (Korean sushi), ice cream, corn, and so much more.
Food on a stick

Food on a stick


More food on a stick

More food on a stick

Even more food on a stick

Even more food on a stick

Soooo much food on a stick

Soooo much food on a stick


My first bite was some sort of sweetish bread with an egg baked into the middle. Egg bun

Egg bun

Next, I grabbed some mini kimbaps- one with jalapeno inside, one with cheese, and one with kimchi! Later, I got some sort of stirfried noodles and veg, which I covered in hot sauce. For dessert, I got an odd ice cream. The cone was a soft waffle in the shape of a fish. The ice cream was regular vanilla, but they plop a piece of honeycomb on top, wax and all. It was delicious! I even took home some sort of fish-molded filled pastry for breakfast. (I don't know why all the "traditional" foods use a fish-shaped pastry mold.)
Dessert in a fish

Dessert in a fish


Somewhere in the middle of all this, stands the UNESCO building that hosts the Nanta show. I expected the show to be gimmiky and just ok, but my expectations were exceeded.

The plot isn't the point. The show has only 5 "actors," all of whom must have a circus-incredible skill set. The show is very musical- but the music comes from them banging with knives, spoons, and whisks on pots and pans. The music is surprisingly good. Then, the various scenes have them juggling, doing acrobatics, dancing, performing magic tricks, showing off amazing knife skills, playing with a bit of fire, and performing slapstick comedy. It's very entertaining, and there are even several parts where crowd members get pulled up on stage or the whole crowd participates. I highly recommend this to anybody. I am really glad I went. It was definitely worth the price, and I actually recommend paying the higher price for the closer seats, as long as you're ok with having stuff thrown at you.
Nanta Stage

Nanta Stage

Posted by spsadventures 21:44 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

N Seoul Tower


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I've seen Holly's coffee on every corner here. (Also 7-11, Korean CVS, and Olive Young). I've never heard of Holly's outside of S. Korea, so I figured I'd try it. My bagel was actually decent, but the did the Panera thing I hate where they make you put your own cream cheese on instead of just doing it for you. Nothing too exciting, but very accurate to what you'd get in the USA somewhere.

Lunch today was Korean and huge. First, I had kimbap- Korean sushi. The rolls are the big rolls with lots of filling. But the rice isn't vinegared like Japanese sushi, so I didn't enjoy it as much because the flavor was somewhat bland. However, I got spice with my cold noodles. Basically, they take a pile of shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and fresh hot noodles, then plop a bag of special ice on top. Spicy red sauce and half a hard boiled egg go next. The ice cools the noodles as you mix it all up, and ends up melting into a kind of sauce. It was tasty and interesting, although I could have done with half as much ice. In the end, you've eaten all the noodles and veg, but you're left with this cold soup-like sauce with mini icebergs floating in it.
cold noodle restaurant

cold noodle restaurant


I noticed a churro truck parked next to the lunch restaurant. I've seen several since my oreo churro. Apparently churros are much more popular here than in the US.

After work, I headed to N. Seoul Tower. I got off the bus into a pretty-looking park, although it was too dark to really tell. I saw a path uphill that looked fun. And the I got on the bus. It went up. And up. And some more up. There's a good reason they have a cable car to the top. It would be a killer hike, although pretty awesome if the weather was chilly.
N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower


The view from the top of the hill, bottom of the tower, is amazing. You can see the whole city! But for a 360 degree view, you have to pay to ride the elevator up the tower. The view is great, I'm not sure it's worth the price at night. What I found interesting was that if you go down one floorfrom the main observation deck, the windows are printed with information telling you what you're looking at. This was interesting and should be on the main area, I think.
View from the tower

View from the tower


I rode back down to the base of the tower and grabbed some Udon soup for dinner. It was quite good. It was more or less the same as any udon soup, except they topped it with a perfectly vinegared age (fried tofu skin). And of course, it came with pickled daikon and kimchi. I'm quickly learning to expect these two with every meal, the way you get bread automatically at an Italian restaurant or olives at an Israeli one. It's just assumed.
dinner udon

dinner udon


There are several other things to do in the tower- a Hello Kitty museum, a museum for taking pictures (similar to the Trickeye that I went to the other day), a teddy bear workshop, and a Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) rental place. They just weren't for me.
Just silliness

Just silliness

Posted by spsadventures 13:39 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Laundry Day


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Today was a normal work day.

At the cafeteria, I got "Ramen and Cheese" for lunch. Listen up college students, if you want real authentic Korean food, have I got the recipe for you! You make a big bowl of spicy ramen soup. Then you put a piece of American cheese on top so that it gets melty. Enjoy. Seriously- they gave me a piece of American cheese wrapped in the plastic and everything. I'll admit that their ramen noodles are about twice as fat as American ramen noodles, and they did throw in about 6 slices of spring onion to add some greenery. But basically, they gave me food that would cost 25 cents in the grocery store in the US. Even with labor, it was still cheap- about $2.

The other excitement is Snow Mochi. They take the chewy rice outside of a normal mochi, but make it really thin. Then they fill it with icecream and fill the ice cream with jam. This is something I need ot learn to make.

We got done with actual work early, but somehow kept having to wait for stuff to the point we got home rather late. Everything is pretty much closed Monday nights, but I had plans to for the only thing open- laundry!

Now I know that my company is happy to pay the Marriott price of $5 to launder a pair of socks that I originally paid $1 for. But, I prefer to do my own laundry. I saw this place, The Laundry Project, online and thought I'd check it out.

I finally got my data working, so I used Moovit to figure out what buses to take since it's not super close to a metro station. But, when I got to the stop, I asked a local which bus stop I needed for the right bus. He got me on the bus in the wrong direction, but at least he got me on the right number bus. A couple of stops later, I got on the correct bus for the least transfers- just 1 bus and a 10 minute walk.

The walk starts out through a very American part of town. I saw a lot of guys in military uniforms, a lot of people that didn't look stereotypically Korean, a lot of burger joints, a lot of pizza places, and a lot of American-style bars.
American Bar

American Bar


Then, the walk suddenly goes uphill at a slope that made yesterday's tunnel look easy. I was getting quite the workout. Next time, I'll put my settings on "get me closest even if I have to transfer 100 times."

But I arrived, and that's where I'm writing this from. It's actually quite a pleasant cafe- free wifi, very clean, Disney classic music redone jazz-style playing in the background, and the cake is delicious. They don't really have real food, only desserts and drinks, so I got the healthiest thing here for dinner- carrot hazelnut cake. It's got vegetable in the name, right?
Laundry place

Laundry place


In any case, the guy working here is super-helpful and I'm really glad I came, even though I wasn't planning on the exercise.

Posted by spsadventures 13:36 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

DMZ


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Yesterday was sort of a wash, tour-wise. We worked late and so I didn't get to go anywhere. But, I noticed a few interesting things about the culture here.

The traffic to work was worse than on a week day. Our local contact suggested that people might be going on vacation (like summer Friday night beach traffic in the USA.)
Rockapella led me astray. Because Carmen put the "soul" in South Korea, I've been pronouncing "Seoul" incorrectly my whole life, as in the song. In Korean, the syllables are "Se" and "oul" (with the l being the same as an r, but that's a different story). Technically, this is exactly how it's spelled in English, but it never occurred to me to pronounce it Se-o-ul, with all of the vowels being distinct sounds (but still running together quickly). My childhood was a lie!
I figured out why the gowning rooms at work are separated by gender- you have the option to remove your street clothes and put on little "silk pajamas" uner the bunny suit.
One cool thing I noticed about Korean food packaging- where it indicates the volume/weight of the product, it also indicates the Calories in the packaging. You don't have to check fine print or do math about how many servings are in there. Just BOOM- 300 mL 200 kCal and done. I think every country should adopt this.
Even on Saturday night, when you'd think food spots would be open late, the food court at the mall attached to the hotel closed by 9.
That's just about when I got home from work. The shops were all packing up food for people to take home, and weren't making anything new. As a result, I have to say that I'm not impressed with Korean Italian food.

However, I can also say that it is possible to make the rice noodle things in an electric tea kettle. (For today's breakfast, I made soup made from "spicy tofu sauce" in a bag and a package of those noodles that I grabbed from a grocery store.)

I met the tour guide at 7:30 in the lobby and got on the bus to pick up the other tourists. On the way north, she gave us a quick explanation of the history and our plans for the day.

Basically, pre-WW2, the Japanese had conquered Korea. After the WW2, the USSR influenced the peninsula north of the 38th parallel and the USA south of it, but in theory the country was sort of unified with different governments and liberated from Japan. Then, the northerners tried taking all of the land, but eventually the US and other countries helped the south. Things went back and forth, with China hopping into the fray until an armistice between China, the USSR, USA and North Korean governments were signed.

The South Koreans didn't participate and so the demarcation line + 2km in each direction (aka the demilitarized zone or DMZ) is controlled by the USA and not so much the South Koreans. They aren't allowed military there, so military police stand guard. Somehow that doesn't count.

Today we are going to the DMZ only, not the joint security area- the place where the "not soldiers" from the 2 groups of military police face each other.

Our first stop is Imjingak park. The park features a bunch of monuments to the folks who died in the wars, as well as a "freedom bridge" where families got reunited. It also has a Popeyes amongst the plethora of food stands and gift shops. Oh, and of course a carnival-style amusement park. The amusement park was closed, maybe because it's pretty rainy, but I would think that it detracts a bit from the somberness of the rest of the park.
Amusement Park

Amusement Park

Memorial

Memorial


Not today, but sometimes from this park, they periodically release balloons with propaganda flyers attached, have annual ceremonies for the defectors, and ceremonies for unified families. Per the guide, both sides balloon over propaganda leaflets, and South Koreans who turn the leaflets into the police get a small reward.
Imjingak Park

Imjingak Park


At other border points, propaganda is blasted on big speaker systems. The north talks about how great their dictator is and the south blasts k-pop music for the soldiers to enjoy.

The drive to the next site had us cross through a checkpoint that required passports, but it wasn't a border. Had we continued 200 more km straight, we would have been in Pyongyang. We turned right.

As we traveled, the guide told us stories of famous defectors. She also told us about the draft policies- about 2 years of required service for the south, 5-10 years for the north. She kept us entertained.

Next stop was the 3rd infiltration tunnel. This tunnel was made by the north while trying to invade the south. The engineer defected and reported it to the south. The hunted it down, dug it up, and turned it into a tourist attraction.
DMZ tunnel from the outside

DMZ tunnel from the outside


The center required us to watch a very militaristic video before entering. The first part played angry march music in the background while some American spoke quickly about how the evil North Korean agressors started the war, then continued to try to invade and break the peace treaty. Four tunnels have been found so far, and we are at the third one. Then, the video suddenly becomes a pastoral nature show. Because the DMZ is left alone, nature thrives there and it is a de-facto bird sanctuary.

We put on requred helmets (not cleaned between sweaty tourists), and descended a steep access tunnel to get to the infiltration tunnel. At the entrance, they've preserved and highlighted the holes prepared for dynamite to expand the tunnel. Here, the tunnel shrinks a bit. It's still wide enough for 2+ people to pass, but if you're my height, you appreciate the stinky helmet. Supposedly 30,000 soldiers could have passed through in an hour, but they'd have to be shorter than me or they'd have to duck.

The prize at the end of the tunnel is a window in a wall. Through it, you can see another wall with a window in it. It's a bit anti-climactic, but those walls are 2 of the 3 preventing North Korea from using the tunnel in an invasion. We were only a few hundred meters from the actual border.

The climb back up is steep, so even though I took it slow, I was sweaty gross by the top. I wished I had brought a bandanna to towel off with. Fortunately, the souvenir shop was plenty happy to sell me an overpriced one. And so I buy my first souvenir.

It's wet and rainy today, but the tiny parks and gardens at each location are still quite pretty. I can only imagine how stunning they are in the sunshine. Of course, it wasn't a tranquil park. The South Koreans were blasting k-pop at the North Koreans at that moment, and it was reasonably loud.

On our way to the next stop, our guide explained what we were going to see over the border. We'd see an industrial complex that shut down about a year ago. Before that, the South Koreans provided technical knowledge (about 800 employees) and raw materials. The North Koreans provided land and cheap labor (14,000 employees receiving a $120/mo salary, but half goes to taxes and they get paid in goods, not cash). The north also used their connections with China to transport goods for cheap export.

We'd see a propaganda village.

We'd see a huge flag pole with a big North Korean flag. The story behind this is that the south put up a big flag pole with a big flag. The north had to top them with one 20 m taller. The south put up one 20 m taller. This continued for a while until North Korea put up a flag weighing over 400 pounds.
North Korea

North Korea


You can see most of this with your bare eyes from the observation point. But, it is worth the 50 cents to use the binoculars to see it all clearer. The rain had let up, so we had decent visibility, but there was still some remaining fog blurring some areas.

One thing I really enjoyed about this particular tour is that we had great timing. We kept arriving just before all of the other groups. We had each site somewhat to ourselves for about 5 minutes, and then the same half dozen buses arrive and flood the location with tourists.

I felt the drastic difference most at Dorasan station. The train station seemed abandoned when we walked in. By the time we left, it was bustling as any normal train station would be.
Dorasan Station

Dorasan Station


This station is the end of one of the lines from Seoul. In theory, the train could keep going to Pyongyang. But it doesn't yet cross the border. All the signage shows such hope that one day this will be fully operational and shows such a longing for reunification.

In theory, you could just skip the guide and take the train from Seoul to here on your own. But I don't advise that. First, the guide added quite a bit that I wouldn't have gotten on my own. Second, it might be a safety issue to walk between the sites. Apparently there are still active land mines left over from the war. Occasionally farmers in the area lose limbs tending to their plots.

The last tour stop in the DMZ is the "unification village." This is not a joint security area. This is a propaganda village in theory, but for us it is actually just a souvenir shop. I wanderded a bit in the 5 minutes we had there, and saw down some of the side roads. Their choice of decoration surprised me. Metal cutouts of soldiers at battle lined the streets.

On the return bus ride, the guide shared some Korean music with us and gave us a chance to relax. She apologized for the next stop, but apparently the tour is cheap because the Ginseng center sponsors it.

I understand why she apologized now that I've seen the center. The first part is somewhat interesting. They show you what the plant looks like at various ages and explain about its production and growth. But they speak very quickly, whisk you through, and don't leave space for questions. I wanted to know more about how they cook with it, but we were rushed on. Then the lady started explaining all the health benefits- promotes digestion, is great against diabetes, cleans the spleen, cures cancer, etc. While I suspect most of that is garbage, I would have loved to hear about any studies that have said it's not. But she just moved on to why Korean Ginseng is better than all other ginsengs. The whole time she was speaking, it wasn't even enough time for me to read all of the displays on the wall and take it in. It was seriously fast, to the point where I felt rushed and unsatisfied with the learning part.

Then, they whisked us into one of several back room shops and closed the door. A guy gave a several minute infomercial explaining which product (syrup, powder, fresh, honeyed, capsules, etc) was good for which ailments. He wasn't speaking so fast. He wasn't rushing as much.

They gave us samples of some sort of liquid made from the syrup and put some powder in it. It tasted pretty horrible. It was very root-ey. It almost tasted like drinking beet juice with the sugar removed. Of course, they gave us plenty of time to buy. And then we went through their souvenir shop which contained some more ginseng products, as well as regular grocery products with a huge markup. It could have been done so much better, but it just left a bad taste. The whole stop wasn't more than 5 minutes, so it didn't detract from the tour, but it is the last thing we're all going to remember of the tour.

They dropped us off downtown in a great location for me to start my explorations. We landed right next to city hall, which is just steps away from Deoksugung Palace. At 2pm they do a changing of the guard ceremony, and it was 5 minutes until then.
Palace Panorama

Palace Panorama


But I didn't see any guards. So I asked the ticket seller, who picked up a sign that says they cancelled it due to the weather. But, since the weather was improving, they might still do the 3:30 one, she said.

I looked around for food to eat while I waited, and spied a restaurant boasting Chicago pizza. I didn't know how much I craved pizza until I saw that. So I walked over. But the first floor had a Korean restaurant with really good looking pictures of food, some words in English, but Korean people eating. I decided on that.

I ordered my first bibimbap! And then they brought me a bowl of soup and some sides- the same pickled daikon and kimchi that they give you everywhere. Ok, I thought. This is a good lunch. And then they brought more. They brouht a huge bowl of bibimbap to go with the other items. All of this was something like $5!

Knowing there was no way I could eat it all, I didn't try, but I did try a bit of everything. The bibimbap is a bowl of rice with some sauce in the middle and a whole bunch of vegetables and then a fried egg on top. My sauce was spicy and delicious. My vegetables included lettuce, bean sprouts, and fiddlehead fern, amongst other things. I don't think I had ever eater the fern before, and I can't say I'd really choose to eat it again, but it was worth trying.

After lunch, I went into the palace grounds to see what there was to see. The rain had stopped and it was quite pleasant outisde. The first part is very similar to the other palace I saw the other day. The second part had a bunch of more modern stone buildings whose architecture reminds me of DC museums. It had nicer grounds than the other palace, but if you're just going for architecture, you really don't need to go to both palaces- they're similar enough.
Palace

Palace

Palace2

Palace2


I still had plenty of time before the ceremony, so I decided to check out some festival thing I saw up the road on our way in. It turned out to be a celebration of the upcoming olympics. I got my picture taken with the mascots. Some people waited in long lines to try out VR or carnival versions of some of the sports. And a lot of people were there holding protest signs and getting people to sign a petition in support of the ferry sinking victims. Overall, it was a lively scene and excitement was in the air.
Protesters

Protesters

Olympic Fun

Olympic Fun


I walked back to the palace, only to find out they cancelled the last ceremony as well, even though the rain had stopped and things were drying up. Instead, I headed towards the Rice Cake Museum.

On the way, I found a huge bookstore, and picked up some Korean food cookbooks. Based on how busy that place was, people here aren't using Amazon and must read a lot.
Street Art

Street Art


I finally found the Rice Cake Museum in the Korean Food building. It is 2 1-room floors of shellacked or fake rice cakes. There are some signs in English explaining some of the cultural significance of rice cakes, but not much on how they're made. There weren't even samples! I was pretty disappointed with this museum.
Rice Cake Museum

Rice Cake Museum


It had been raining most of the day and I my feet had been wet for hours, so when I got back to the hotel, I wasn't in the mood to go back out. Dinner consisted of the other half of the teapot full of sauce and noodles. I promise I'll eat something else exciting tomorrow!

Posted by spsadventures 13:18 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

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