Seoul, South Korea: Beer, Mountains and Guards

You can end up doing so many things in Seoul in a day, it’s almost impossible to come up for a title for these things.  So we’ll start with what most people would want to start with: beer.

Yesterday drew the first official week of our camp here to a close and we decided we would go celebrate with, as our Head Teacher Jon called it, “Space Beer”.  The beer itself is actually pretty darn normal but it comes with two neat bells and whistles. 

First, the table.  The table is actually a sort of refrigeration unit.  Each person has a hole where you can put your beer (think the beer holder on a cottage chair and you’ve got it) and that hole gets nice and cold, thereby keeping your beer nice and cold.  If there’s one thing you need to know about Korean beer, it’s that it NEEDS to be cold.  Otherwise, not so good.

Second thing they do is give you the option of a single, double or triple beer. The glasses don’t really get bigger.  They get taller.  So if you get a triple, you end up drinking this big hookah looking thing.  Fun way to get your beer intake, I suppose.

So we start there at about 5:30 pm and are there for a while before we move to stage two of the night.  According to those in the know, Koreans traditionally have a four-stage night with a different location being used for different things before they find a final blow out zone.  So we move to another beer and food place for some hot plate meat (pork rib) and veggies (kind of Korean BBQ-lite) and more beer.  All the time, I’m renegotiating a start time with Marta, one of the teachers at the camp, for a hike we’re doing to Inwangsan, one of Seoul’s not-too-difficult but highly recommended peaks.  Originally, we had planned a 7 am start time.  After some negotiating, it moved to 7:30 am.

Well, after the Korean food we went to a place called Beer Brothers, which basically is a  pub combined with a convenience store, where you grab beer out of the fridge and then scan your bottles at the end of the night to settle up.  We played some darts, apparently very popular in Korea when it was 1000 won but now very unpopular because it is 1200 won, and went home…

At 2:30 am.

So hiking was tough this morning, to say the least. 

Inwangsan, though, is a beautiful hike, only about two hours round trip if you’re moving at a good clip (we were not moving at a good clip).  It’s a bit hard to find but, the good thing is, there are plenty of locals who go hiking on weekends so if you see a Korean in the best dri-fit hiking wear, chances are that’s where they’re headed.  So we had lots of help getting to where we needed to go. 

Near the top of the mountain, you get some amazing panoramas of the city which you have to be VERY careful about taking pictures of.  See, a few years back, some North Korean soldiers hid up on Bugaksan and tried to kill the South Korean president while he was in the Blue House (their White House).  It didn’t work, but now you’re not allowed to take photos from certain vantage points and they actually have guys there to prevent you from doing this.  It’s odd, because if you walk ten feet away and take the same picture they don’t mind, but I guess everybody approaches security differently.

So Marta and me began our descent, trying to find the park we started in.  Unfortunately, Korean mountains aren’t really labeled in English.  The good thing is you’re really high above the city and so long as you continue to go down, you’ll find a skyscraper that gives you a landmark and you’re good to go.  On the way down, we also got to see some of the original Seoul Fortress walls, which were neat – more of those to come next weekend!

Once we made it to the bottom, we started walking towards Gyeongbok Palace (gung) and caught the changing of the guard ceremony, which is way more impressive now that they have the main palace gate up and running again.  I wanted to check out the Palace Museum but it was closed until August 1st, so we wandered down through Gwanghwamun Square, where Marta made me put on a Korean Emperor outfit and take pictures (she’s new, I forgive her) and made our way to the Cheonggye stream, which winds through some of Seoul’s cooler neighbourhoods.

We popped out at Myeong-Dong, saw a transplanted piece of the Berlin Wall next to a blue bear statue (?), wandered over to the Myeong-dong Catholic Cathedral (Korea’s biggest), had a sweet potato latte (Marta rejected it, I picked up the baton and finished it) and finished up with some eye shopping and real shopping in Myeongdong, where I got a Tony the Tiger T-shirt that says “Cornfrost”.  Seems accurate.

Doing a relatively quick turnaround to head to Itaewon, the expat district, for some dinner and then back here to crash out.  Tough, exhausting day.  Tomorrow I’m thinking about going to the Olympic Park, but it’s also supposed to rain so we’ll play it by ear.

No triple beers, though.

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