Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's All About Seoul

Hotel room view. OK, not the best walking weather.

An almost perfect day spent walking in Seoul. Last time, about a month ago, I made a short jaunt to try out the train system (essential, since there's little to see here in Incheon) and to get a look at Itaewon, the shopping district of Seoul favored by Western tourists and servicefolk stationed here. There wasn't time for much more.

This layover amounted to a more luxurious 53 hours, the schedules written so that we could catch up on our sleep. (We cross so many time zones in quick succession that resting can be a challenge.) We got to the hotel about 8:AM on Monday morning and were overdue for sleep. But with the sun up already, and having logged a couple hours' sleep on the airplane on the leg up from Sydney, my body was good for only about three hours before I was up. It was sleeting and snowing for most of Monday (see above), so that made for a short day confined to the hotel. I was back in bed by 7:30 PM.

This morning, Tuesday, I was awake by about 3:AM and twiddled my thumbs until about 8:AM before catching the train into town. My plan was to use a couple notorious shopping districts as signposts for my planned walk, less because I planned to do any actual shopping than because these areas are probably a good example of the larger culture, and because I would surely see a lot of unexpected stuff in between. (A mostly-accurate Google Pedometer re-creation of my route is here.)

It's a long ride from Incheon into Seoul, and the train system is extensive and not entirely user-friendly, at least for a foreigner with no language. (If Wikipedia is to be believed, the Seoul train system is the second largest in the world in both length and ridership.) But I was able to get to my first stop--Dongdaemun--with only a single transfer at Bupyeong. The journey took a good 90+ minutes and one has to remain fairly alert since the English-language announcements and signage are easily missed. (We're lucky to have them at all, of course, and it's only proper that some extra vigilance falls to the tourist; but last time I nearly missed one connection, and then found myself on the right train line but branched off to the wrong terminal--so there's definitely a learning curve.) The trains are slow and the stops deliberate, a change from the crush of New York's subway and that of some Chinese cities I've seen.

Seoul is a big place, and typical of an older city there is little or no grid. I studied the area I planned to walk on Google Maps the night before, and once underway I relied on a couple iPhone apps and my compass to remain oriented. But with that little bit of preparation I found it quite easy to keep going in generally the right direction, and the only real concern was that I terminate at my planned train station, and even that wasn't really necessary so long as I ended up at SOME station in the train system. The getting lost along the way is a key part of the adventure.

The only downside today was the weather. It was better today than yesterday, but it's cold and damp here (low-mid 20s) and everything was covered with a sheet of ice. Everybody seemed to cope well enough--the crush of scooters delivering stuff was on the job despite the cold and ice--but one senses that this is not a daily occurrence here. The barkers in Myeong-dong all had outdoor heaters to make their jobs tolerable. The ice made walking a little tricky and walking at a goodly clip impossible. Still, nine miles (according to my phone GPS tracker) is a reasonable tally for the conditions, and except for the train station at Yongsan EVERYTHING was new.

It was the best possible way to spend a day.

At least 50% of the train riders were playing with their phones--mostly Korean models, naturally.

Shopping a mixture of big, pricey malls and small, Chinese-style booths and kiosks.

An unexpected find for the day: the Gyeongdong Market, specializing in dried seafood. Not being a seafood eater, walking thru this market was like watching an autopsy being performed. Ugh, but fascinating, but ugh.

Say it with me: Ugh.


Ewww. Ugh.

Yowza. Ugh.

Really? Holy god, ugh.

Jesus. Uuuuuuuuugh.

Holy fuck. This is NOT FOOD. I'll have nightmares for a month. No more swimming. Ever.


Finally. Approaching Myeong-dong.

Seoul train station main ticketing concourse. Extensive shopping here.

One of the train sheds of the Seoul Station.

Lots of these outdoor shops: auto work or scrap metal processing or recycling.

How to make your already-huge phone even huger. Arms to hug you; it's almost Her.


LizTW said...

Fun stuff (except for those poor dessicated optopi)! Did you know it would be cold there?

wstachour said...

I expected it to be around 0°C (it was in the single digits a month or so ago) but maybe not quite this cold. It's hard to pack for a trip like this, with HNL and SYD and DXB on the one hand and ICN and ALA and CGN on the other. I have a coat with me, but it's more of a jacket; I'm already over-packed and there's no room for a more substantial one. And I failed to put a proper winter hat or decent gloves in my bag (despite a note on my to-do list reminding me). So I just barely kept up despite the walking. Toward the end of my 4-hour sojourn the sun came out and it warmed a bit. Made all the difference.

dbackdad said...

Awesome! Love the dried seafood pics. I like seafood but that stuff could cure me of my fondness.

Jon said...

For as crowded as it always seems to be, I'm surprised that one would even attempt to drive a car. The streets are so narrow that driving one could be fatal at best. Oh and by the way, those dried fish look to be excellent!