On my way back to Washington, nearing the end of my five month journey begun in early June, I decided to stop over 3 days in Seoul. Judy and I had booked a trip to tour South Korea, but had to cancel it when her health declined. This will just be a scouting stop for a later visit.
Incheon Airport is one of the best world airports. Immigration was quick and efficient, and it was easy to follow signs to the express train into central Seoul. 45 minute trip cost less than $7, in a very comfortable modern train. A example of good urban design, much better than fleets of taxis clogging the freeways.
Coming to Korea has led me to review the history of the Korean War, which happened when I was a toddler. I knew a the generalities, and had watched M*A*S*H, the anti-war situation comedy based on a medical unit in Korea.
I had not realized just how close we came to defeat, and what a long and nasty war it was. It easily could have developed into WWIII. Joseph Stalin was unwillling to let it go that far, and declined to directly involve Russian troops so as to avoid that. Russia supported the North Koreans and China with materials, but not troops.
At the same time, our position was compromised because we were backing a rather nasty dictator in South Korea (as in South Vietnam in the late 50s) as being better than communism. Still, with grit and good military leadership, we did manage to fight to a draw, holding the border at the one determined at the end of WWII. A win in the sense that we did defended South Korea’s existence.
Was it worth all the lives lost (over 37,000 American soldiers) ? You decide.
The Palace guards dress in traditional costumes
Lots of small streets with hundreds of places to eat.
A great Korean buffet right next to Seoul Station. Amazing assortment, and a good way to sample different foods by sight.
At another restaurant, some dishes were on offer which I chose to skip.
So I picked a plate of vegetables sautéd with pork and octopus. It was spicy and good. The small dishes are kimchi (spicy pickled vegetables) and seaweed. A satisfying lunch.
There is a lively street food scene here, day and night. You can buy all kinds of snacks and more.
Fish Cake Soup comes sizzling! It was good.
This is a kind of freshly made potato chip. Cut a potato into a big spiral, dip in a coating and deep-fry. I have not yet tried one, but I may. Potato chips on a stick?
Seoul has an extensive subway system. The display system in the subway stations lets people know where their incoming train is, and gives this entertaining announcement, complete with moving graphics:
Seoul Subway announcement from Mel Malinowski on Vimeo.
On my second day, I visited the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, and Bukhansan National Park.
Magical kinetic art.
And now the Park. A huge mountain of beautiful weathered rock.
I scattered more of Judy’s ashes atop Jokduribong Peak. Rather steep hiking up big, weathered, rounded rock bones.
My conclusions on a short visit: Seoul is quite clean, well-organized, loaded with (Korean) food options, seems safe, friendly locals, great transit (subways, buses), lots of parkland. When I come back to Korea, I’ll spend more days here, as I have by no means exhausted the options here. Rather cool in the winter!
There is a rather large cultural gap here to deal with. The Korean alphabet is very difficult, and the food is less familiar to us than (say) Chinese cuisine. If you come with an open mind, there is a lot to see and appreciate.
Nighttime view from the head of my bed at 16th floor near Seoul Station. This stay certainly has given me a better feel for Korea than just buying LG and Samsung products. Quite an interesting people and culture.
401 days now on my own, without my partner. A brief sojourn ahead in Amboy, WA and California, then I begin year two in New Zealand.