Friday, December 17: On Friday night, we take the KTX to Seoul. The KTX is the high-speed train; it takes 1 hour and 40 minutes from Daegu to Seoul. Apparently, according to the Korail website, it can go up to 300 km/hour. It doesn’t seem to me it goes that fast. I think it’s fast only because it makes only 2 or 3 stops. I love the description of the KTX design on the Korail website: “In order to reduce air resistance, the head part of front and back of the high-speed railroad is designed after streamlined shape of a shark, plus the characteristic of Korean culture which is the soft curve.”
So, Alex gets his first Asian train experience. We arrive at Seoul Station, get on metro for one stop to Namyoung Station, and voila, right around the corner is our hotel, the Rainbow Hotel. We check in and immediately go out in search of a place to have snacks and drinks; we find one that’s comfortable and sit and talk for a long time. He tells me about his recurring dream of his true love Sarah, about another girl he met who conveniently forgot to tell him she had a boyfriend, about his closest friends. I love this evening because we are so relaxed with each other and I feel so close to him after his time here with me. I am sad that now his time here is drawing to a close.
Saturday, December 18: In the morning, we venture out into Seoul to see Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Gyeongbokgung means Palace of Shining Happiness and was built by Chosun dynasty-era King Taejo in 1395, the fourth year of his reign. The palace was destroyed several times by the Japanese, and now is only, at least in my mind, a bunch of poorly maintained empty buildings. The only interesting thing is seeing a bunch of palace guards marching about with flags, and getting to take some pictures with them. They seem quite disgruntled at having to pose with all the ridiculous tourists.
We go to the National Folk Museum which sits at the northern end of the Palace. We don’t go inside but just wander around the grounds where cool statues and folk carvings abound. We discover our Chinese astrological signs; surprisingly, Alex and I have the same sign: the sheep. I don’t much care for this because I don’t consider myself a sheep!!
A Korean friend of mine who used to be into heavy metal in his younger days (his name is Young Dae, oddly), suggests that we go to a huge guitar market at Jongro-3 station: Nak won sanga. So. After the folk museum we venture into this market, where Alex buys two Korean ceramic type of musical instruments: one for himself and one for his friend for Christmas. Then we go to Itaewon where we eat chicken schwarma at a Turkish restaurant in the Arab area, see the mosque, and browse in the English bookstore What the Book? Since we are loaded down with a few book purchases, we return to the hotel to drop them off and taxi to City Hall to check out the Christmas decorations, which frankly were pretty darn disappointing. We wandered around the stream and saw the minimalist lights, then went into JS Texas Bar for a light dinner of shrimp salad and beers. We have to kill time for a while before taking the Seoul City Bus Tour, so we wander around the streets and step into a PC bang to check our emails.
The City Bus Tour is about an hour and a half of traversing back and forth by bus across the various Han River bridges. Apparently each one of these bridges has some great importance, some grand design. That is the tendency of Koreans, to think everything in their country is such a unique treasure, unlike anything found elsewhere in the world. I actually find this nationalistic pride quite annoying. (I could go on and on about this subject and I will in a final blog about Korea when I leave here!) Anyway. This bus tour would be fine except we’re supposed to see the city all lit up but it’s all a blur because the windows are all fogged up. At one point the bus takes us up to Nam-san Mountain to see Seoul Tower, but they only give us 20 minutes to wander around, not enough time to go up in the tower.
We’re both tired after the day, so we go back to the hotel and relax. All night long, Alex can’t sleep. He’s worried about his flight the next day. On top of that, for the entire time he’s been here, he’s been complaining about my snoring! All night he keeps saying, Mom! You’re snoring! Stop it!! He actually gets quite vicious about it. I don’t know what to do other than to stay awake myself, which I don’t care to do!
Sunday, December 19: As Alex barely gets a bit of sleep, I let him sleep in late in the morning. Finally, we go out, making our way back to Itaewon to have lunch at a Thai restaurant, which is delicious.
We go back to What the Book? to kill time and finally head to Seoul Station to catch the Express bus to Incheon airport. We have coffee in the airport, kill more time, and then, alas, sadly, Alex departs back to the USA, where he will have Christmas with his dad and his brother, leaving me behind to while away my first Christmas ever all by myself in a foreign country 😦
As an afterward, he missed his connecting flight in San Francisco, was told he’d be on standby for the next flight, and ended up making it on that flight! I was so worried about him coming here and getting home safely; it was a relief when Mike called to tell me he made it home.