After spending a few days with Kyungbo and meeting up with some of my international buddy from UAlbany's friends (she made me an itinerary!!!), I was off to the Hongdae area to spend a few nights in a hostel. This is the university area and its absolutely nuts! FILLED with people on weekends and quite crowded on weekdays as well! What a cool experience to try some different cafes and korean style foods in the area. Street vendors are there too. The area boasts some wild nightlife as well, with clubs such as Coccoon hoppin' every night!!! Others get crowded on the weekend, and there is a bar called "Vent" where you can secure a Banana Beer for 4,000 Won, (about $3.50 USD) and a place directly above the infamous club Coccoon called "Terrace" which will dish out strong draft beers at 1,500 Won (About ($1.25 USD) while also treating you to a fantastic view of the city...what's better than that?!?!?!
Itaewon is a strange area. It is a mix of Muslims, U.S. Military, transgender people and some wild Koreans! The only Mosque in all of Seoul is located here and there is also a heavy U.S. presence because the U.S. military base is so close by that the G.I.s often frequent this location. It is a wild entanglement of all sorts of cultures where (perhaps due to the US Military) you can purchase larger sized clothing! Also, here in Itaewon another couchsurfer took me to a lovely spot for food and drinks and then up to a rooftop where we could see the whole city, cars, flashing lights, the river, etc. I really like those type of moments when you have real conversations with someone in that environment and you can reflect on your life and the world. Sometimes it feels like a scene out of a movie, and I also have this picturesque movie feeling when I get onto a plane to go to the next location and I hear music...I feel like it is a theme song for my ongoing travels!
I was lucky enough to meet up with my international buddy, and spent some nights at her family's home in Donghae..WOW! The mother is a fantastic cook, the dog has its ears and tail painted green, the Grandma is hilariously random, and the father so kind and modest! How would I know this? I don't even speak Korean! Well, through numerous translations I was able to get the jist of it! I could not believe that after we climbed the Valley, her family would take us to a "condominium", which was a secret codeword to disguise a 5-star Korean Vacation resort! I slept on the floor however, Korean style with lots of padding and mattresses, not to worry! The parents brought along an interesting Australian couple who are looking to start a homestay for Koreans when they return! It was really fascinating to chat with and get to know everyone better. Due to the father's connection with a former student, we not only got hooked up with the room with perhaps the best view and a deilicious dinner consisting of the local specialty dish of that area, but free Sauna tickets as well! Don't go to a Korean or Japanese bathhouse (in Japanese it is called an Onsen) expecting to keep your clothes on or to retain your privacy. These are communal style ordeals, and a lot less strange than you might think once you actually check them out for yourself! Lastly on this topic, the family was kind enough to take me out to eat so many times, get pizza and a cake for my birthday, take me to a waterfall and even taking me to an organic flower plantation with a theme of peace, prosperity and positive thinking...all the while assuring that I did not pay a dime. Unreal hospitality, I was (and still am) amazed.
I then moved onto a city called Gyeongju where I met some nice people that I hope to connect with again in Japan! I visited some ancient tombs, which are covered by huge grass hills in parks here..(quite strange actually) and had some walks passing by an observatory, through a forrest and along an amazingly beautiful pond at night! I was able to finally do a workout with a benchpress and some light weights in the hostel, man that felt good! I realized when I weighed myself in the bathhouse that I have lost about 20 pounds since my departure for Asia, wow!!! This is due to eating less perhaps, and at stranger hours, along with not having a set workout schedule, which leads to not working out as much unfortunately as the facilities have not been available. As I may have mentioned in other posts, it is quite hard to maintain a gym membership when you will be heading to your next location within a few days and the facilities usually want a committment of at least a few months.
My next stop was Busan, and I stayed in Haeundae Beach here..what madness! I saw drunken Korean women trying to brawl in broad daylight! The beach was quite nice and a stroll at night was quite great too! There is a good deal of things to checkout, but a bit pricy by the beach area!! I was astonished by how many coffee shops are around South Korea!! Back to Seoul, then Osaka here I come!!
Random Facts: 1) Many Korean wear hats (often of US baseball teams).
2) Plastic surgery is QUITE common here, and more than half of the women (at least in the bigger cities...I think maybe even all of Korea) have had work done mainly on their eyes and nose, and sometimes their face. Even some guys who are expected to maintain a certain image (usually performers) will undergo the surgery.
3) Restaurants and even individual people tend to be a lot more meticulous recylcing and the way they go about it (as was similar case in Taiwan). The recycling is actually generaly split into 3 minimum and as many as 6 categories!
4) Some restaurants that deliver will actually come back to collect some items given like plates and bowls.
5) When Koreans speak English, they often say things like "you had better"...instead of "you might want to", sounding a bit arrogant in nature, but I understand that it is the way they have learned the language. Also expect the "w" and "p" sounds to be confused, once again due to concerns in the native tongue. Expect to hear "my wipe (or 'wipuhhh') is so wonderful" when a Korean man might actually be trying to tell you about his significant other, not a restroom item which he is particularly fond of...
6) I feel a bit ashamed that I have not learned more Korean before I came. I would have liked to but was put off by the fact that I will be spending such a short period of time here. I learned a few phrases however, and was told by many that Korean is quite easy to learn. The alphabet and characters don't seem to complex, and there are no tones (unlike Mandarin Chinese).