Monday, September 29, 2008

How to catch a bus in Seoul

First, you go to this great bus website run by the Seoul government to find out which bus you want to take. Then, you go to the bus stop. What is not clear on the website is that while there is a bus stop located along that block, only some of the buses stop at that particularly place on the block. So you have to check the sign at that stop to see if the bus you want stops there. If not, walk further up the block to check the next one. According to the website, there might be 20 or more buses stopping at that stop. But they actually stagger them, so maybe 10 stop at one, then the other 10 stop further up the street. But it's all one stop.

Once you've determined that you are at the correct stop, the next step is to position yourself. Since more than one bus can stop at a time at a single bus stop, you have to be prepared to dash up or down the street the length of a bus to catch your bus, because if one stopped before yours, yours will stop behind it. Or, if there isn't another bus already stopped, you still have to be prepared to either walk along or back towards your bus depending upon where the bus driver feels like stopping.

Once you've caught your bus and you're onboard, you need to swipe your T-Money card and grab hold of something. There are bus lanes, usually on the right side of the street. But taxis and motorcycles just stop randomly along there, so the bus has to avoid them. They don't usually slow down during the evasive maneuver, so if you aren't sitting, you need to have a firm hold on one of the hand holds.

As your bus nears your stop, you need to maneuver your way to the back door to exit. Before exiting, you have to swipe your T-Money card. Just like when you catch the bus, when exiting the bus, the bus driver may or may not stop in a place where it's convenient for you to get off. Occasionally, I have to dash down the street along the bus I just exited to get to the place where I can get on the sidewalk because they've put metal bars along the sidewalk to prevent people from ending up in the street.

I take the bus to and from work. In either direction, it's an exhilarating ride, think Mr. Toad's Wild Ride sans safety gear, that is guaranteed to get the heart pumping and the brain awake.

Office dog

Miro, the office dog, come by for his afternoon snack.
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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dungeon Market

I have no idea what this sign says. But down these steps and to the left exists a market. We get fresh vegetables and a few other things down here. I call it the dungeon market because it's a bit dark and dank down there, and the ceilings are low, and the walls and floor are concrete and often damp where someone has washed them down.

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Tapgol Park - Detail

I'm not sure exactly what this structure is called, but it's in the center of the park. The designs on this structure are very similar to the ones on the Bosin-gak structure.

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Tapgol Park

Tapgol Park is one of the oldest formal parks in Seoul, according to the sign outside the entrance. It contains a pagoda, which was restored in the 1940s, as well as statues of famous Koreans.

The restored pagoda is behind protective glass.
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More Seoul Searching

Yes, we wandered some more again today. This time near Jongno in search of Young-poong Bookstore so I could get some office supplies and a key chain. While every other key I have is one of the electronic key cards that I regularly mess up, I do have one for my desk at work that is a real key. And I tend to lose it at the bottom of my bag every day and have to search for it every morning when I arrive at work. Anyway, this first photo is of Jongno Tower, and one of these days I will go to the top and have a drink, I hear there's a bar up there.

Across the corner from Jongno Tower is the Bosin-gak, a bell tower. The bell was used during the Joseon period to mark time and to announce emergencies, such as fire. Now it is rung only on New Year's. From the front, it is really difficult to see the bell, but if you walk around behind, in the alley, the bell becomes visible. In front, there are three guys in traditional Korean outfits preventing people from walking into the structure. There were several DVD shops along the alley behind this. But not the usual rent a DVD, take it home, watch it, return it kind of store. Instead, you pick out your DVD, and then you watch it there in the shop in a small room.

Home sweet home. View of our apartment building from the sidewalk in front of the Bosin-gak.
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Cafe Little India, Insa-dong

We ate here the other night when we both got home too late and too tired to cook anything. I'd seen this place on previous walks through the area, and figured we should try it. We had curried chicken and curried noodles. We should have requested mild, if we could have. It was hot. I managed to eat a portion of both the chicken curry and the curried noodles, but I was seriously sweating before I finished, even though we were sitting by the open window on a rather cool evening. The prices for the food were relatively reasonable, but the drink prices were outrageous. The decorations inside were whimsical Indian, and I'd like to go back to get photos. But for Indian food, I recommend Eavergreen in Iteowan, where I ate the next day and had a chicken curry that made me want to wipe the bowl clean with the naan to make sure I got every last bit.
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Insa-dong chalk art festival

While wandering, we happened upon the Chalk Festival in Insa-dong. There were containers with chalk and people could just grab some and start drawing. One side was kids and random stuff and the other had more professional looking work.

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Random Insa-dong area wandering

On Saturday afternoon/evening, we decided to go out for a bit of a stroll. We've been wandering around the area near our apartment to check things out and see what's around. So we wandered down some of the side alleys. Some of them get a touch on the narrow side, and yet people still drive motorcycles down them.

These wooden statues were outside of what I assume is a pork restaurant.

There was a stretch of road that contains many shops with Buddhist religious supplies and paper lanterns. These were strung between trees along the street.
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Help! Help! I'm trapped in Seoul Station...

I decided to take a quick trip over to the Lotte Mart grocery store over at Seoul Station this afternoon to pick up some salmon for dinner. It's 3 stops away from Jongno-3 ga station near our apartment, so it should be a short jaunt. I walked over to the entrance nearest our apartment, used my T-Money card (a re-usable card you can load money onto and use on buses, taxis, or subway) to enter, and managed to find the Line 1 track going in the proper direction. The train arrived, I hopped on board, and then, 3 stops later, I hopped off. Everything's going just fine.

Until I tried to exit.

I tapped the card on the T-Money spot. Error 10. I checked the list of errors conveniently provided on the exit kiosk (in English, even). Error 10 = ERROR. Great. I tried again. Still got Error 10.

I headed back towards the center of the labyrinthine station to see if I could find the ticket/information counter with a live person. I found one of the station maps, and noticed that the ticket/information counters all happened to be OUTSIDE of the secure area. In other words, I had to get out to get to the counter. Ok.

So I headed back towards the Seoul Station exit. Tried my card again. Got error 04 -- Card not scanned on entrance. Ok. I think I'm getting somewhere. At least it's not showing me Error 10, the mystery error, any more. Then I notice that I'm not the only person having issues with the exit. I watched a good half dozen folks crawl under the arm when their cards didn't work. Then I noticed a Korean couple where the woman exited, but her husband was still stuck inside because his paper ticket wasn't working. At this point, I resolved that if it still didn't work, I'd just crawl under the arm like the guys did. But I tried again and it still said Error 4. So, I scanned the card as if I was coming in, and it read it. Then waited a second or two, then scanned it on the exit side. Free, free at last!!

Then I went shopping, picked up a few things, ran into a co-worker. Spent about $25 on a single bag of groceries. And headed back to the subway.

Again, no problem entering. But when I got back to Jongno-sam ga and tapped my card, it said Error 02 -- Tap card again. So I tapped card again. Got Error 02 again. So I tapped my card again. Finally, on the third try, it let me out.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fall has arrived in Seoul...

Last week, the street vendors were selling t-shirts, baseball caps, and sunglasses. This week, they're selling socks, knitted caps, and gloves.

Wednesday, the weather was nice, a bit cloudy, but short-sleeve shirt with maybe a light sweater needed. Yesterday, it was rainy. Today, it was like winter in Florida -- I wore a sweater all day long.

And I have batteries for my camera, so more photos coming soon. I'm trying to figure out what to do first out of my long list of things to do or see. I'm leaning towards seeing the local neighborhood and the palaces/parks/temples nearby first. Or randomly picking a subway station on the map (I could put it on the wall and throw darts at it), and going there and just seeing what's around.

On my list so far...


Bangsan Market
Changdeokgung Palace
Deoksugung Palace
DMZ tour
Dongdaemun Market
Gyeongbokdung Palace
Jongno Tower
Kimchi Field Museum
Meokjagolmok in Gwangjang Market
Namdaemun Market
National Museum of Contemporary Art
National Museum of Korea
Noryangjin Fish Market
Samcheongdonggil Street
Seoul Museum of Art
Seoul Museum of Chicken Art
Seoul National Science Museum
Seoul Tower
Silk Road Museum
Tteok - Kitchen Utensil Museum
War Memorial of Korea
World Jewelry Museum

This is always subject to change, and I'm always looking for suggestions.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Serviced Apartments

Serviced Apartments = College Dormitory + Five Star Hotel

Sortino's restaurant

We ate at Sortino's in Itaewon the other night for a co-worker's going away dinner. The top photo is of the penne with mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, with basil. The bottom photo is the potato gnocchi. For appetizers, we had the buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and basil, and the sauteed mushrooms. Both of which were very good. I was slightly disappointed in the penne -- not much in the way of mozzarella, and it was slightly overbaked. The cheese risotto was very nice, with a rich flavor.

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We can see some kimchi pots on a neighboring roof from our apartment.

Kimchi is fermented cabbage or other vegetables, such as radish, and is served at almost every meal.
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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Random Insa-dong photo

Status outside an alleyway leading towards the fugu and temple food restaurants.
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Puppy Sighting

Wandering around Insa-dong, we came across 2 puppies and a mama-dog. The puppies were already bigger than the mama-dog. Unfortunately they scampered across the street before I could get a photo of all three of them.
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Fugu restaurant sign

Fugu, also known as blowfish or swellfish, is also served here in Korea. This is the sign for one of the swellfish restaurants in Insa-dong. Compare to signs from Shibuya, Tokyo.
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Homemade Korean noodle stir-fry

After our adventure at the Lotte Mart at Seoul Station, we took our loot back home and had a stir fry. I used the Korean potato noodles (which I'd been trying to find at the Asian stores in Jacksonville and never did), along with the beef, onion, and baby bok choy.

First, I put onion in the frying pan with some oil and cooked them until they were softened, and some were caramelized (not planned, but it was my first time using the apartment stove and cooking implements). Then cooked the meat, and added the bok choy at the end and stirred until the bok choy were just softened. I added some soy sauce at this point. Before starting the onions, I cooked the noodles in boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drained and rinsed them in cold water, then added them to the stir fried meat mixture. Then I added a bit more soy sauce, stirred it all together in the pan until the noodles were hot and covered with the soy sauce. In the end, the noodles looked like the ones I've seen in restaurants and at the Marriott buffet. And it tasted good.

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Happy Chuseok

Today is Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving. The actual holiday this year is on the 14th, but usually it is a 3-day holiday with the day before and after also taken off. This year it is on a Sunday, so Monday is a day off.

Most folks go home to see family, pay their respects to their ancestors, eat good food, and play games. And the traffic outside of Seoul is apparently atrocious, even worse than the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in the US from what I've heard.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Seoul Station

Today, we went on an adventure in search of a grocery store. This weekend is Chuseok, so lots of things are closed, so we wanted to stock up on food. We'd heard there was a grocery store at the Seoul Station, so off we went! The Seoul Station is a few stops away from the station nearest us. Unfortunately, not knowing which of the dozen or so entrances to go in to get to the line we want, we actually walked all the way through the station at our end. Got to Seoul Station and wandered around for a few minutes and found a bunch of homeless folks.

Red statue complete with homeless man below.
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... they aren't just for pedestrians.

It's actually pretty quiet out there, seeing as how it is Chuseok, a big Korean holiday. But sidewalks usually have motorcycles driving up and down them, cars parked on them, and occasionally there's still room for pedestrians.
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View from our apartment

I still think Gary got the better view! But it's still pretty nice. We have a view of the top of a building straight out from our windows, but on either side we can see parks and city.

This is the area out of the back entrance to our building. The yard with the stuff in it contains gardening statues and fountains.

Another view...
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Japanese food in Little Tokyo

We went to Little Tokyo for lunch the other day and ate at this little restaurant buried deep in an underground strip mall. I'm pretty sure I ordered the tempura udon, and the Korean folks I was with are pretty sure they ordered the tempura udon for me, but I ended up with tempura on rice. But that's okay because it was really good. There were two pieces of shrimp, a small piece of eggplant, and a small white vegetable and/or seafood thing. The mystery item, whatever it was, was good.

This was the tuna sashimi over rice, with what turned out to be an extremely potent dose of wasabi.
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