Korea Fighting! The Long Day in Seoul

There are twenty four hours in a day and we used almost all of them. Ignoring the jetlag, we set out for a full Sunday with the final activity of the day known: watch Korea versus France at 4am. We met 추영(Jooyoung in Latin characters) and after a warm exchange of greetings we proceeded to 경복궁 or Kyung Bok Palace.

One of four surviving palaces in Seoul, it was in active use by the Royal Family until 1897. Sadly, successive fires (a by-product of under floor, fire-based heating in wooden buildings I’m sure) and purposeful destruction by Japanese invaders in the early 1900s left a small fraction of the buildings intact. What is here has either been restored or re-built.

The tour took about thirty-five minutes and gave absolutely no more information than was available by reading the signs posted by every place our guide stopped. I would recommend a self-tour to anyone. The changing of the guard was dull, as any changing of the guard is, but lightenned up by the American-English tranlator’s insistence on saying duty with two D’s. This resulted in hilarious comments such as “The new guards are now ready for doody.”

We had lunch at 치아야기 (Chee-ah-yah-gee) which specialises in rice cooked in bamboo. Another bamboo treat was a bamboo alcohol served in a bamboo jug. It was here that 청현 (Helen is her English name) joined us.

Let’s pause to catch up on our new characters. Yooyoung used to work with YuKyoung at Rexo. He came back to Korea while his work permit was being applied for by Rexo. Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he was turned down so Rexo lost a good employee and we lost a good friend. Well, lost is the wrong phrase – maybe ‘were separated from’ is a better one.

Helen knows us through Royal Holloway. We met through friends of friends and after that she ended up staying at our house for a while before she returned to Korea to continue with her Master’s degree.

Our fourstrong party finished lunch and debated where to go next. In the end we settled on a traditional tea house. It was hot and stuffy when we got there so we opted to do a swift tour of their tea museum and then head for somewhere else. Our next stop ended up being 찬단궁 (Changdeokgong Palace).

When you visit Seoul, just see one palace. This was just like the last one but with a nice forbidden garden. So, I guess I’m recommending it over Kyung Bok Palace. the guide was just as useless (more useless actually) and we didn’t learn much more as teven the basic history of Korea was repeated verbatim from the other tour.
Helen bought a red Korean football shirt to get in the spirit of the night as we left the palace. An extremely short taxi ride took us to the Nanta theatre. We were able to buy reduced price tickets because we were supporting the Korean team by wearing red shirts (Helen’s motivation wasn’t entirely in the spirit of the night after all!). Nanta is good for a non-Korean speaking visitor to Korea. It was written by a Korean and it has very little speaking because it is mostly expressed through gestures and body language. Lots of activity, little talking and a great percussion soundtrack – what else could you ask for?

We were quite hungry after the show so we went to 논두렁 (Noondorung) for some bibimbap. Once again, Korea comes through for a tasty and healthy meal.
Here is where most people’s days would have ended but we were just getting started. Your storyteller needs a break from writing though so the day will be split into two posts. Coming up: batting cages, a hard to find tavern and large screens broadcasting the football to the streets crammed with Korean supporters.

Until then…

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My First Night in Seoul

First off, I’m late but I’ll say it anyway – Happy Father’s Day dad!!

There were two food options on the Korean Airlines flight: Western and Korean. I was already in the holiday spirit so I opted for Korean food for supper. Since making that decision I can say without a doubt that airline food is airline food. Bad Korean happens to be better than bad pizza or chicken with rice but it’s still airline food at the end of the day!

We arrived in Seoul at 16:30 (8:30 BST) rather bleary-eyed but in pretty good shape overall. I say we arrived in Seoul but what really happened was landed in a nearby town called Incheon – a mere hour bus ride away. I’ve already complained about air travel many times including here, here and here so I won’t go into it in detail once again but I will say that airlines should be required to state travel times from the airport to the city centre in addition to the flight times. This would open a lot of people’s eyes to the real cost of air travel. At 19:00, yes that is two and a half hours after we landed, we left the hotel and start our holiday in earnest.

I only took one term of Korean language classes but it really makes a difference in my comfort level. I had alwasy believed that travelling to an Asian country would be a disorientating and difficult experience because you couldn’t do basic things like read signs and notice boards. Well, I still haven’t tested my theory because I can read most signs and notice boards and ask for basic things! Also, at least in Seoul, most people speak at least a little English so I can get by quite nicely. Having Yu Kyoung to back me up when I fail helps a bit too, I’m sure.

Around the corner from the hotel, I stepped into an exaggerated version of New Malden. We walked for a while until we found a suitably busy restaurant, took off our shoes and took a seat on the floor for our first meal in Korea. We had beef bulgogi and some soup then pork with old kimchi. The sourness of the old kimchi matched the pork belly perfectly. For those who don’t know, many meals in Korea are cooked at your table which lets you eat at your own pace and have piping hot food on demand – perfect!

After the meal we found a bar named Zuzu. It was relatively empty but the staff was very friendly and we got to see a dazzling display of spirit bottle spinning and fire breathing by the bar staff. It was quite impressive. Overall, it was a great start to the trip.

Leaving for Korea

The cold and rainy weather that dominated the middle of this week has cleared away for a sunny weekend. This won’t matter to me because I’m leaving, on a jet plane, for Korea this evening. We picked up a 2 Gigabyte Memory Stick for the trip so I don’t think we’ll run out of space to store photos. If we do, there’s always the option of burning the data to a CD at a photo shop somewhere.

I’m rather excited for many reasons:

  • I’ve never been to Korea, or anywhere in Asia
  • We are going for two weeks
  • I get to meet Yu Kyoung’s family
  • We might miss a huge belt of rain in Jeju when we’re in Seoul and miss it again when it hits Seoul because we’ll be in Jeju
  • We’re going to be in Seoul for next Korean World Cup match

Koreans are big supporters of football and we’ll be in Seoul for the next Korea match. Unfortunately, it will be at 4am (if my calculations are correct) but luckily we won’t be over jetlag yet and so we’ll probably handle it with no problems.

I hope to be able to post photos while I’m travelling but if not then I’ll revert to my descriptive skills to entertain you.

Amino-Peptides

Olay Regenerist™ lotions are simply amazing. I’ve been reluctantly using lotion for the last few years since I can’t stand the sandpaper dryness that my face has become but it always felt as if the moisture was actually the lotion and once it evaporated then the dryness was back. Amino-peptiudes are different though. I applied the night cream version then went to bed. When I woke up in the morning and gave my face that half rub, half slap morning treatment I suddenly stopped on the first slap. I just couldn’t believe how soft my skin was. I took a shower and when I got out and dried off, it was still soft and moist!

Immensely impressed, I set about applying it daily from then on. I’ve missed some night applications due to my friend Mr. London Pride and I even skipped one day because I didn’t think I needed it but other than that I’ve become a devout follower of amino-peptides. I’m starting to sound like my mom when she was in her thirties which is a little worrying. I remember aerobics tapes and our healthier eating attempts and they mimic my current life to perfection.

It’s quite sad but I guess this is just another item that firmly confrms me as a metrosexual. More worrying is that I’m writing about lotion on the same day that Michael writes about Krav Maga!

The Start of the World Cup (in High Definition?)

You may know that I’m not a huge sports fan so a post on the topic might be a bit surprising. I don’t follow football regularaly but it’s pretty difficult to not be excited about the World Cup games when you live in any country in the world but the US. Businesses close down. Pubs fill up. Faces are painted. Everyone is wearing sports gear but you’re not surrounded by chavs. Overall it’s just a great time.

I thought that I would be able to treat myself and some mates to matches in high definition television for the first time. We could see two out of the three matches in glorious detail. Only one had to be watched in the blocky and blurry resolution that’s been around since the 1950s. Can you guess which one? Of course it was the England match.

We still managed to have a great time and cheer on England to a win. We had a great BBQ and I can’t really complain. From tomorrow I’m looking in to why I can’t get BBC in HD and I hope to have it all sorted out as soon as possible. In time for the USA match tomorrow is doubtful, for the Korean match on Tuesday is possible but I’ll be at work and Thursday we’ll probably watch it in the pub if we can find a place to stand. So I guess I don’t have to be in too much of a hurry about it.

Americans are already familiar with the improvements that highdef broadcasts give you but the UK is only launching service now. You can get it on Sky and a mere 450 of us are trialling the broadcast in London. I felt lucky when I was selected but the wind fell out of those sails on yesterday. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch at least one England match at full resolution!

Come on England!

It’s only fair to provide some impressions of the high definition TV (HDTV) service. At first we weren’t that impressed but I think it’s because we were just too picky and looking for very specific details. We settled in to the first half and were quite shocked when we switched back to the standard definition TV (SDTV) during halftime as a comparison. All of the sudden, everything looked blocky and blurry. We really couldn’t believe that we had to watch the England game like that! It is something that you just get used to after a while and forget how good it is. What I could have done without was watching the sweat pour off of Jim Rosenthal’s face. At the start of the halftime broadcast he was dry as a bone but mere minutes in and he was dripping wet. We went back to the SDTV broadcast and you couldn’t notice a thing at all. Announcers must hate HDTV!

Now, for the Americans who might not realise that a game with contestants from all around the world is actually happening, you can view the BBC World Cup 2006 Schedule. USA is ranked quite highly this year so you should tune in! The games are being broadcast in HDTV to the US too as far as I know.

Brighton Trip

DSC03289.JPGThe trip begins! We live just 45 minutes from the sea but we rarely take advantage of it. Brighton holds a special place in our hearts. Four years ago my immigration status was on the rocks and Yu Kyoung and I were lamenting the fact at a Wimbledon pub. Over a pint, we made a snap decision to jump on a train to Brighton. Thirty minutes later we were on our way. We had no money and so had to “borrow” some from Yu Kyoung’s sister via her emergency credit card. We found a place to stay and in the morning raided the Boot’s cosmetic samples section to do ourselves up. But that was our last trip.

DSC03299.JPGThis time the trip was inspired by the sand sculpture festival. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and walked out of the train station into the first day of summer in England!

DSC03291.JPGWe were off to the coast but first we had to stop in to the Watersone’s and take a peek at our friend Michael’s book The Manuscript.

DSC03294.JPGWe finally made it to the sea and had lunch at English’s restaurant – just like we did four years ago. It was fantastic and just as expensive as we remembered! But there is nothing like sitting at English’s having mussels, crab and dover sole over a nice bottle of white wine. The only complaint – and one I like having – is that the sun was bearing down on us quite heavily and we had to get up and take a short walk to cool ourselves down from time to time. I have posted the best of our June 2006 Brighton Trip on Flickr.

Ski 2006

Landing PartyIt’s already June and I’m just posting tales of my ski trip. Not exactly on top of things, am I? Well, I’m working on it. The good news is that WordPress is an absolute treat and I seem to be getting new functionality quickly and easily. What can I say about my ski trip?

Smiling in the SunThe first one is always the most expensive. We had to buy thermals, ski gloves, goggles, waterproof coats and trousers and loads of other things. I know that next year will be cheaper but this year was painfully expensive. And we went to a cheap location! Yu Kyoung’s ski jacket is especially nice though, don’t you agree?

Broken (Fractured) Arm!I was a bit worried and you can see that my concern was completely justified. I’d love to say that I was careening down the mountain at insane speeds or perfecting my half pipe skills or even that I was moving when this happened. Sadly, I had almost come to a stop and then lost my balance. One of those moments that you can’t believe happens but it does.

Ryan WalkingNo worries because I got to walk the mountain. Something I’m sure I wouldn’t have tried had I not broken my arm because I would have considered it too dull. In fact, it was dull but very relaxing. I recommend it to anybody on their ski holiday. I know it’s tough to consider when your blazing down the mountain every 30 minutes but take a nice walk up the mountain and you’ll appreciate the ski lift all the more.

More photos can be found in my Flickr Ski 2006 album.