First Trip to Seoul

At this point, all I can think about is how my feet hurt and how much I’m going to have to pay in utilities for using the floor heating tonight…

I learned a lot of things today and saw a lot of things, and the trip was well worth it!

This morning I took off to the train station in Pyeongtaek with my coworker Kevin.  We took a taxi.  We were both under the impression that the high speed rail, KTX, runs through the Pyeongtaek station.  It is after all one of the larger stations that run between here and Seoul.  The taxi driver however informed us that the KTX does not stop in Pyeongtaek, although they are building a KTX station to come through town.  What a bummer!  We wanted to try out the high speed rail.  Instead, we bought the next grade down rail tickets for 4,000W ($4) and waited at the platform.

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Since we bought our tickets when we did (right before boarding the train) it was standing room only.  An interesting note is that Koreans like to assign seating.  For example, movie theaters have assigned seating.  Trains have assigned seating.  Busses have assigned seating.  So when they run out of seats, instead of saying “sold out” they make you stand.  So you awkwardly stand next to someone who is seated in a seat as you rock back and forth as the train goes down the tracks.  I say rock back and forth, but in reality the Korean rail system is extremely smooth, fast, and efficient.  They have put a lot of effort into their public transportation network and it shows.

We boarded the train and 50ish minutes later we were in Yongsan.  Well no we weren’t in Yongsan.  We accidentally got off at the wrong stop so we were on the south side of the river from Yongsan.  The ticket booth dude told us that our train was direct to Yongsan with no stops.  Well, that was apparently WRONG.

The whole purpose of going up to Seoul was to look at cars to buy.  As Americans in Korea on SOFA status (A3 Visa) we are unable to buy a car from a Korean national.  Instead, we can only buy registered cars from USFK personnel.  Yongsan is an Army Garrison built during the Korean war and is in the heart of Seoul, and Kevin “knew a guy” up there so we took the train up there to check it out.  He agreed to pick us up once we got to the station.  He called and said he was outside, and then we realize that we got off too early.  So in order to pass the time, we stopped at KFC to grab coffee, and I got some OJ.  Yes, KFC as in Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I love this place.

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We then went outside of the station and waited outside for our guy to show up.

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Yes, that’s a 7-11.  They are literally everywhere, sort of like ants.

We got picked up and headed to check out the cars.  Something to keep in mind is that used cars here are typically very cheap because most nationals do not like buying used.  They buy new every few years and then sell their cars, so used cars are steeply discounted.  Neither Kevin nor I are wanting to spend more than 3 million won.  Our options:

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We test drove the Hyundai and the Daewoo.  The Hyundai was 2,600 and the Daewoo was 2,800.  Too expensive for what you get in my opinion, and Kevin felt the same.  He also took us to see several other cars, including a Hyundai Tiberon which was a total piece, a weird SUV of some sort, and another hyundai sedan.  We left without buying anything, the selection was a lot less than what we were promised.  We will continue our search closer to home.

The real highlight of the outing was lunch.  I’ve eaten hot pot with my girlfriend a number of times back in the states, and I was excited to try it in Korea.  All I can say is, it was extremely good.  For those not familiar with hot pot, it’s basically a broth that is kept hot on a stove that you put vegetables and meat into and cook them until done.  In the US, you can choose what flavor broth you have, but at this place there is only one broth.  Our broth was a blend of anchovy and vegetable.  We had beef as our meat and a variety of vegetables, as well as the customary sides that come with the meal.  All in all, this was an amazing meal.

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Towards the end of the meal you eat your noodles.

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Then the most interesting part is the rice.  They bring out a bowl of rice and put it in your broth and add an egg and a few vegetables.  The rice soaks up the broth and you are left with a porridge-like rice dish that both tastes amazing and finishes off the meal so nothing is wasted.

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And then last but not least, a small cup of this super sweet almost like fruit punch.

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Now it was decision time- what to do?

We were boring and decided to go home.  So we walked to the subway station and boarded a train.

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A quick thing to say about the subway, you buy a card that you load money onto and that gets you through the turnstiles.  You tap your card again upon exiting the station and it gives you the final price.  There is an initial charge of 1,500W and then the extra cost upon leaving.  Typically, the extra cost is not much.

While we were heading towards our destination, Kevin turns to me and says, “we are passing by my hometown!  Do you want to stop by and visit?”  Of course!

You wouldn’t believe where he grew up.  Well…  I may be making a bigger deal out of it than is necessary, but it has to do with this guy:

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He grew up in Gangnam!

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So we exited our train and took another train to Gangnam, which was literally the next stop.  According to Kevin, Gangnam is now the second most expensive place in Seoul, the first being the equivalent to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.  I don’t remember the name.  Anyway, we exited the subway at Gangnam and walked around a little bit.

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Obligatory cookie shop:

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I don’t know why but when I first came to Korea I wasn’t expecting to see American chains.  I still want to take pictures when I see them.  I’m sure it will wear off soon.  Two story Coffee Bean!

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As I said before Gangnam is very expensive.  Here’s a perfect example.  Vietnamese food in general is very cheap, especially pho.  Here is an example of pho, and the price is just insane.  Twice the cost of what it should be.

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I’ve been looking for a pho place ever since I got here.  I have finally found one but I wouldn’t eat here.  My search continues….

I have also never seen a vertical parking garage.  Here are two different examples, one a lot larger than the other.  Crazy.

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And of course….I’m not surprised.

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By this point it was super cold so we decided to head back.  We jumped on the subway only to find that it was extremely crowded.  Crowded as in, shoulder to shoulder crowded.  Very, very uncomfortable.  We had to make a connection in some random city, I don’t remember the name.

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It took two and a half hours to get to our station on the subway.  The worst part?  It was shoulder to shoulder the entire time.

Once we got back to Pyeongtaek it was raining.  The weather is always wild.

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As an aside, I picked up a Samsung S4.  Iphones aren’t really a thing here, and I was having a hard time finding one so I had to settle.  I was forced into the decision due to government sanctions that I mentioned in a previous post.  It’s taking some getting used to to use it, hopefully I get used to it fairly quickly.

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4 thoughts on “First Trip to Seoul

  1. Wow, and I used to think that my post were LONG! Talk about an eBook post! But certainly a great story with excellent pics of everything ya saw. I agree with Jed, it was an enjoyable read.

    p.s. Ya shoulda taken a pic of you with your buddy together, though, I think.

    p.p.s. Don’t forget to say, “Fighting!” and give the V-sign!

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