Astoria Hotel, near Chungmuro station
People who made my travels more enjoyable: Undram (Mongolia), Joowon (Korea), Heewon (Korea), Liz (Korea)
The day started earlier than expected because of my jet lag. I woke up around 4am and caught the second half of the Paraguay - Spain match. Paraguay was rather unlucky and Spain managed to pull off a win (in an unconvincing fashion). I also caught the highlights of the Germany - Argentina match. It was amazing to see the Germans dismantle the Argentines. I think they will definitely be the favorites to win the World Cup! After a few hours I went back to sleep until late morning.
At lunch time I made the short trip through Namsan 1 tunnel to Hannamdong. Hannamdong was my old neighborhood when I lived in Korea. It was fun to walk around and see all the little changes.
Chungmuro intersection (I love the giant LCD screens!)
Some shops had closed and others had opened (There is a lot of turnover in Korea). They even added a Kraze Burger! (Good thing it wasn't there when I lived in Hannamdong). After only a few minutes outside the heat and humidity was starting to take its toll. I quickly ducked into the local KFC to wait for my friend Undram. She arrived shortly thereafter and we set out to find a place to eat lunch. We settled on a little cafe near the entrance to the UN Village. I wanted to get Korean food, but my favorite lunch place was closed for the weekend :(. We caught up, and I learned that she was studying Korean and planning to start and MBA program in Korea. She was thrilled to be living in Korea. After lunch I said goodbye to Undram and went to meet up with my friend Joowon.
Joowon, a Cornell graduate, works for Google in Korea. I met her randomly through my previous employer, in the fall of 2008. She was with her former boarding school classmate Heewon. We sat and chatted for about an hour. Heewon had recently been accepted to a PhD program at Yale and she was very excited. We talked about our travels and future plans. Joowon told us about her plans to attend cooking school next year. I was really happy for the both of them :)
After an hour or so we decided to go to Itaewon. Itaewon is a famous/infamous neighborhood that has a large international community. It's usually packed with sketchy foreigners, yet it offers some of the best international cuisine in Seoul
Main Hannamdong intersection
We figured since it was the 4th of July it might be a good place to go. We took a cab up the hill from Hannamdong and, after a few minutes, we had arrived. We settled on a tapas bar called Geckos Terrace. It had outdoor seating, which on most occasions I would have enjoyed, but in the heat, it was quite uncomfortable. After a few minutes I thought I was going to melt. I ordered some beer to help me cool off. It was very refreshing, but the alcohol quickly zapped my energy.
Despite the heat, and general lack of energy, I decided to wait for my friend Liz to arrive. Liz is also a Google employee who attended the prestigious Korea University. Even though she has never spent any significant amount of time abroad, her English is fantastic. We always have great conversations, so I knew it would be worth waiting for her to show up.
Sadly, she wasn't able to find parking, but still managed to poke her head in and say hello for a minute. After Liz' departure, we all decided it was time to go home. Heewon and Joowon took the subway home, but I was too lazy and chose a cab. There is an endless amount of cabs in Seoul, so finding one is never a problem. Occasionally they are hesitant to pick up foreigners because most of them don't speak English. Luckily, I know enough Korean to tell them where I want to go :)
Koreans have an interesting relationship with English. The most prestigious universities all require English education and the learning of English is mandatory in public schools. Unfortunately, most of the teachers don't have the proper training and very few Koreans are actually able to communicate in English.
They spend an inordinate amount of time on grammar and don't ever practice speaking. They tend to memorize a few phrases, hence when you ask a Korean how they are doing, they almost always reply with "I'm fine". To add to the humor of said conversation, Korean lacks the letter F, so when Koreans say Fine it usually comes out as Pine. Many business names are written in English, but they often choose words that have no relationship to the actual place. For example a gym could be named Forest Fitness, when there is no forest anywhere near by. Advertisements and slogans commonly use English, and it's almost always incorrect. When a new store opens in Seoul, they often hang out giant signs that proudly exclaim, "Grand Open!".
Anyway, I digress. I exited the cab at Chungmuro station and decided to pick up a quick snack.
I chose one of the many Korean chain stores, Kim Ga Nae. I was craving Chamchi Kimbap (Tuna Kimbap). Kimbap is a type of Korean food, that is similar to a japanese maki. Wrapped in seaweed (Kim) it is filled with rice (Bap), vegetables and some type of meat (usually ham or tuna). It's quite delicious and makes for a great snack. I like to think of Kimbap as the Korean version of a sandwich.
I took my Kimbap back to my hotel room, and had a nice quiet meal. The sun and alcohol had taken its toll, so after an hour or so I went to bed for the night. It was great to catch up with old friends, and even though I didn't get to see any fireworks, it had been a nice 4th of July.