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May 2005

We emerged from the subway near to where our hostel was supposed to be.  We glanced around, trying to get our bearings when immediately a man in a business suit, speaking English, asked if we were lost.  Of course we were.  We showed him the directions to our hostel, but he couldn’t make sense of them either, so he just called the hostel on his cell phone and got directions.  He said he was heading the same direction, so he got a taxi and took us to our hostel.  Our whole time in South Korea was to be like that.  Whenever we were lost of confused for more than two seconds, someone speaking English would magically appear and help us. 

 We dropped our things off in our room, then headed back out to explore the city.  We soon realized our hostel was located in the “home improvement” district.  Imagine Lowe’s or Home Depot but in dozens of little shops.  So our first impression of Seoul was a lot of bathtubs, floor tiles and ceiling lights.  We were famished and in search of a restaurant.  We finally found an area with lots of restaurants, but we weren’t prepared for how different Korean food was from Chinese.  Nothing even looked good, and everything was expensive.  So we ate at Pizza Hut. 

 We eventually made it to the downtown area.  We soon discovered that May 1st-5th was the Hi Seoul festival, so there were a few stages set up and the streets were lined with stalls selling food that looked very unappetizing to us.  Seoul was the capital of the Joseon dynasty during the 15th century, and had many palaces dating to that period.  I was disappointing to discover that most of them were rebuilt, having been destroyed by the Japanese. 

Seoul didn’t have the towering sky scrapers I was expecting, but it was consistently impressive.  The city went on forever.  Seoul has an urban population of nearly 10 million and was the largest city I’d ever been in.  We took a bus to the top of a hill in the center of town with views of the whole city.  The best part about Seoul is that there are so many hills in and around the city that despite all the buildings, there are still many beautiful natural areas.  I was amazed at the vastness of the city.

downtown Seoul

Korean food menu

Hi Seoul festival

view of Seoul

Yongsan Station

 We also visited the Korean War Memorial and war museum.  It was interesting to compare South Korea’s version of the war with China’s.  South Korea didn’t claim to have won to war, but they did say that it was China who asked for an armistice, not vice-versa.  There were maps showing how North Korea, armed by the Soviets, had taken almost the whole peninsula before the U.S. and the U.N. got involved.  Then the maps showed that most of the peninsula was in South Korean control until China got involved.  The rest is history, I guess.


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