This is all about my EPIK teaching adventures in Korea!
Next was the long weekend in Seoul! I was really excited for this since Scott and I haven’t really seen Seoul yet. That afternoon we got lost getting to the hotel (meanwhile, we were actually standing in front of it the entire time) and after a maze of finding an elevator we got to the right floor with another couple’s help. This hotel was a jimjibang (a spa with hot tubs, a common room for relaxing in the near dark and watching TV, and saunas with varying temperatures and rocks) and also had tiny cabins you can sleep in if you don’t want to sleep in the public area. We paid about $25 each for a tiny rectangular prism shaped capsule. It was NOT a good nights sleep, as there are about 30 capsules in each gender divided rooms, with people coming and going all night long. Girls screaming, guys snoring and hoarking, girls crying, doors slamming. Uhg. We did it once, and once will be enough for our time in Korea. The shower/hot tub/ room is full of naked people. Everyone wear nothing but their birthday suit. So it was a little intimidating being naked in front of 15 other naked ladies who are all wondering what I’m doing there. I used my shower towel ( what I’d call a tiny hand towel) to kind of hide myself, but it only made me look more out of place.
Thinking the Namsan Tower (Seoul tower) was a short walk away according to my Google maps, we ventured out to go to the top. We met a nice local man along the way who actually walked with us about 3/4 to the top. He told us about Seoul and how most tourists choose the cable car option to get to the tower… cable car??? Later finding out that the hike to the tower is a zig-zag path up a mountain. I have no idea how long we hiked for, or how many kilometers we walked, but when we got to the top we were dehydrated, malnourished, exhausted and in disbelief. Luckily there was a CU convenience store just before the top, where we gorged on chips, muffins, chocolate milk and water. And that was lunch. We finally could see the tower and the fence (and trees) that people had stuffed full of locks. There are tons of signs telling you not to attach locks to the fence and trees, but who actually listens, this is Korea. We all put a lock on, James Bond style, being all stealthy. Then we got the hell out of there because the hundreds of people started giving us a feeling of claustrophobia. Alas, we did take the cable car down the side of the mountain since we had exhausted every last bit of our willpower to do anything. By the time we got to the bottom and finished our tower adventure it was dark. We stumbled back to the hotel, hangry (angry because we were hungry) and exhausted.
After an uncomfortable night on the floor, we woke up bright and early Saturday to go to the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone). The DMZ is 250 km long, about 4 km wide and, despite its name, is the most heavily militarized border in the world. While driving along the Han river you can see into the DMZ along with barbed wire, bunkers and South Korean soldiers standing guard. Our tour guide was quite the comedian. We arrived at the DMZ check point, where a soldier came onto the bus and asked to see our passports. As he left the bus she noted, “we are not allowed to take pictures of the soldiers… just wait until he has his back turned.” This was kind of the rule for the tour… if you aren’t allowed to take pictures somewhere, just make sure no one is looking 😉
First we visited Imjingak was originally used for the families who couldn’t get back to their homes after the North and South divided. Now it houses various war monuments, an observatory and The Bridge of Freedom. The bridge is a former railroad bridge which was used by repatriated POW’s.
Unification Observatory is situated on a mountain with a clear view into North Korea. You can see white buildings in a village which were thought to be a “decoy village”. There were no residents of these building until recent. It is now assumed that people are residing in these buildings, as you can see people walking around during the day with binoculars.
Dorsan Station is a railway station on the Gyeongui Line and is the northernmost stop on South Korea’s railway line. Originally this station accommodated freight trains that connected the North and South. In 2008, the North Korean government closed the border crossing after accusing South Korea of a confrontational policy. The station is littered with happy signs and messages about reunification. Inside, you can see a map of future expansion internationally. Once reunification takes place, it would connect Korea with China, Russia and many European countries.
The 3rd infiltration tunnel was my favourite part of the tour. The tunnel was discovered in 1978 by Korean forces after a defector told the government about its location. It spans over 1635m in length and 2m in width and height. It is estimated that approximately 30,000 soldiers could move through the tunnel per hour. It is 1 of 4 tunnels that have been found, however there is suspect of others which have not been discovered yet. Once the tunnel was found, North Korea insisted it was intentionally made by South Korea to invade North Korea. They even tried painting the rocks inside black to convince South Koreans that they were mining for coal. Even today you can touch the rocks inside the tunnel, where a black residue will cover your fingers. So many excuses about what the tunnel as for, and who made it. But now there are three barricade walls at the end of the tunnel with soldiers inside, while tourists can explore then tunnel. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, but you are allowed to bring your phones… I think we all know what this means.
At the end, we had a little picnic of chips and drinks right beside a landmine field. Not concerning at all. Except when the birds swoop into the forest unknowingly.Don’t land on the….[BOOM!]
Sunday we went exploring in the shopping centers of Nammdaemun, Dongdaemun and Myeong-dong. Nammdaemun is crazy. Vendors all over the place with a sea of people at a constant pace walking around all the carts of socks and Korean goodies. It was tough to stop and looks at things, as you quickly had 100 people pushing past you the second you stop. Nammdaemun is supposed to be a cheaper place to buy things, but it was so busy we really didnt stop to shop. Just to look at the craziness and be on our way. Dongdaemun had more modern shops like H&M and Addidas. Dad got to try out the strange looking ice cream cone, Lemonade in a bag, a stretched out potato and other Korean favourites. We were even stopped on the street by a couple girls and their TV camera and asked some questions about Seoul and Korea. Instant rock stars. And now we’re on some Korean TV program we will never get the chance to see. Myeong-dong is apparently a night market filled with Korean clothing at wholesale cost, but since we were unaware at 1pm, we never got to see the extent of it. We did however find the underground subway markets and some vendors on the street selling clothing and shoes. Scott and I both picked up a pair of shoes for about $10 each. Jackpot. Dad also found a pair of tights with f*ck written on the knees. I think this was his highlight of the day.
That being the last day, Scott and I took the KTX back to Ulsan after a tough goodbye at the hotel. It was a little unnerving just leaving my dad in Seoul…”See ya… hope you find your way back to the airport!” Seemed a little strange to be saying goodbye in a different country anyways.