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Korea, pt. 1

Sorry, I’ve been quite slack in my blogging for this trip. I’ll try to remember a bit here.

The flight Friday was a little late but nothing to complain about too much. THAI’s food was a pleasant surprise: the dinner wasn’t amazing, but the warm roll and metal cutlery were. The scalding hot towel was amazing too, in a different way.

My seatmate during takeoff and landing (guess he liked the window) was a pretty good picture, but since he wasn’t asleep near me my camera missed out. Picture: European traveler, ponytail, faded jeans cutoffs reaching just barely below his crotch, and the reddest skin I’ve ever seen. Wow.

ROK immigration controls and not figuring out the absurdly easy pay phones conspired to make me about an hour later into Arrivals than I’d expected. I caught an airport bus and was met by Mrs. Lee, a third of the Lee family (old family friends) who have been keeping me well-fed with a roof over my head for the duration of my visit. I’ve been sampling Brazilian and Korean classic foods and having a pretty good time.

Saturday I was walked around Ilsan and a little in downtown Seoul, seeing the Gyongbuk palace grounds, Insaedon (“Koreatown”), and Itaewon (“Americatown”) before a semi-wild English teachers’ night out in Ilsan. Sunday, I went into the city in the afternoon in time for an international festival, including “World Food Court.” I kept myself busy with samosas, juices, empanadas, cakes… and then went to the War Memorial, near Itaewon in Yongsan (Militarytown). It’s a very impressive museum with three main areas, the first covering ancient Korean wars, the second and largest covering The War, and the third covering the modern ROK military. The grounds outside have a couple neat sculptures and an incredibly impressive collection of military hardware that would make even the Vietnamese blush.

Today I came to Gyeongju, in the Southeast of Korea, by express bus. The bus was amazing: lots of legroom, huge seats, well-driven, announcements made by pleasant pre-recorded Korean and English voices, and so on. Even the rest area was impressively clean and modern. This evening, I’ll go back by train: the last direct one left nearly an hour ago, but I’m saving some time at not much expense (and being a train geek) by taking a commuter train to Daegu East and changing for the KTX (the Korean TGV). As for Gyeongju: I probably needed more time. I did get to see some burial mounds (shades of South Charleston) and a couple old, small, interesting pagodas, as well as the Bulguksa temple complex farther out of town.

I’ve been very bad with my camera this trip: apologies in advance. I’ll upload what I did shoot when I get back. I’m most excited about tomorrow, when I am to tour Panmunjeom (the truce village on the border of the Koreas, in the DMZ’s Joint Security Area) and the 3rd Tunnel (one of many DPRK infiltration attempts). To end on a cheerful note, a guide cheerfully notes that if anything untoward happens in the DMZ tomorrow, I’ll “probably be incinerated”—but I think it’s worth it.

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