Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Korean people had obviously read my discouraging comments about China and to ensure a positive review100,000 of them lined the streets in red shirts to celebrate our arrival. If that left us slightly bemused, we spent 25minutes trying to find the flusher on a space-aged contraption attached to the toilet seat in a bar. There was a button which imitated the sound of a toilet flushing, one that heated up the seat, one that blew  warm air up your bum, but i couldn't find the flusher for looking so I opted for a large blue button that promptly sent a jet of cold water firing into my behind.  Like a schoolboy, I jumped off the seat and allowed the water to fire all over my pants, and made me miss the part where they release warm air to dry your arse. The next day we investigated further and it seems the Koreans are completely obsessed with toilets, and some might say a little bit anal; they were hosting a toilet and bath exhibition with the slogan "Toilet is life: toilet revolution, changing the world." You could change my world by not making a degree in computing necessary for flushing your feces away.

This embarrassing toilet incident (although not really embarrassing compared to Kerry pissing herself in Budapest) happened in another strange Korean phenomenon, Dr Fish. In this bar you get a beer and a cake and sit with your feet in a pool of water inhabited by tiny fish who eat all the dead skin off your feet. Whereas the Koreans had a few nibbling away, after 5days on trains and boats without showering, our feet looked to these fish like a pork pie does to someone from Burnley. It was a massacre; within a minute we couldn't see our feet.  The waitress, Jinie, was obviously impressed at our ability to keep the fish happy and offered to take us around Seoul on her day off. She had studied English at university, leaned the language by herself from aged 8, yet we were the first English people she had ever met. Jinie took us to some amazing little places but i got the feeling she thought we were malnourished because we spent at least half the day eating.

We ended up in a district called Hondae, which claims to have more bars per square mile than anywhere else in the world. I've been to Krakow which makes a similar claim but Hondae is in a different league; not only is every building a bar, every building is at least 8 stories high and every floor is a separate bar. Unfortunately, most of them are completely shit soul-less tack, based on the American culture that inflicts most things aged under 25 in Seoul. Jinie explained that Koreans take their knowledge of America almost exclusively through Hollywood and MTV. Why they want to base their culture on crap r n b music, hideous clothes, and talentless muppets shouting "whats my name, bitch ass ho down" is completely beyond me.

But i don't want to generalize. Its fair to say that all hip hop music is crap, but only some parts of Seoul make you want to vomit. Its a city full of an infectious energy and a plethora of random things to do that would keep you entertained for weeks. Personal favourites during our week long stay were a day at the races and an evening watching Beowolf in 3D on the biggest cinema screen I have ever seen; at one point i had to rugby tackle Kerry out of the way of an axe that was flying right towards her head. We wanted to stay longer, and everyone in our hostel had been in Seoul for months. Its apparently the best city in the world for teaching English as a foreign language because most people earn at least a monthly 1100pounds + free apartment in a city where living costs about half what it does in England. Peoples lives in the hostel reminded me of daily routine in Ibiza: get up mid-afternoon, contemplate looking for a job, go to the shop for some random food, decide to look for a job tomorrow, go to the shop for a bottle of the cheapest spirit, get pissed. This was definitely the best guest house we have stayed in.

With bloodshot eyes we left at 7am one morning to catch a bus to Busan and an 18hour boat to Osaka. Custom officials were strictly searching every persons luggage and I happily opened up my bag. They seized upon a bamboo pipe, which we had bought as a birthday present to be sent home to a mate, and started bombarding me with questions about where we had been in China and whether i smoked marijuana. Moments later, 3 officials took me into an interrogation room and spent 45minutes searching every nook and cranny of my backpack. I'm not sure if they were following standard procedures because their questioning was completely baffling. One guy was asking me what i thought of Japans performance in the rugby world cup and whether i knew Jason Robinson. A younger girl kept making small talk about various countries i had been to and replied "ooh, very nice" to everything i said, and an older man kept repeating that marijuana is only for grandmothers and Japan has strict laws on taking it through customs. I had a small cotton locket filled with pungent flowers given to me by the hostel owner in Lijiang as a good luck charm. The interrogation team ripped open the locket, pulled out 3small test tubes and asked me if it was okay to do a marijuana test on the leaves inside. I suggested that they should have their nasal passages thoroughly cleaned but i was quite happy for them to waste even more of their time. After an agonizing 10minute wait, they declared "this is not marijuana", but would only let me into Japan if I abandoned the pipe (sorry, Stubbs). To make matters worse, on our first night in Tokyo we found a Bob Marley themed shop that had about 200 pipes on sale. Maybe we should of stayed in Seoul.
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