The Day After the Arrival

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
Trip End Dec 02, 2012

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Chungcheongnam-do,
Saturday, December 3, 2011

Since I arrived around bedtime yesterday, and had no trouble falling asleep due to my long trip, I woke up at a somewhat regular time this morning. I was scheduled to meet one of my new coworkers for lunch, so I spent the morning mainly just watching TV. The hotel had several English language movie channels, with Korean subtitles of course.

I saw part of Zorro and noticed that Korean TV blurred blades when they were pointed at people's faces. When the swords were just hanging around or being used in fights, the blades were fine. However, whenever a close-up came where a sword was positioned near someone's head or neck, the tip of the blade was blurred. How odd.

The little bit of non-English programming I watched was what appeared to be Korean college football. It was definitely football, but I'm not sure of the ages of the participants. They looked sized like a US high school team. I'm guessing Korean football players haven't discovered steroids yet. Anyway, it's cool that Koreans like football enough to have their own league on the television.

When I finished lounging, I wandered out of my hotel to do a little exploring. The road I was on was an interesting mix of hot-springs tourist hotels and karaoke joints, and at least one church which was across the road from my room. A few of the restaurants had live fish in tanks swimming around outside. I wondered how the fish felt about the cold. It was really cold today. I didn't expect South Korea to be so close to freezing at the beginning of December. Maybe that was unreasonable of me, it's been a long time since I've lived somewhere that had a true winter.

Although it was cold outside, I have had to leave the window of my hotel room open most of the time I've been here. The room was incredibly hot. The temperature was controlled centrally, and the room was heated by hot water pipes under the floor. This was apparently the standard Korean way of heating rooms, and it was really great for keeping your feet warm. It must also have been a lot more efficient than futilely trying to blow warm air around before it rises too high to keep us warm like we do in the US, often from ceiling vents or radiators isolated to a small section of the room nonetheless.

The other initially weird thing about the hotel room that became a better idea as I got used to it was the fact that there was no shower stall in the bathroom. There was a large tub, but that was for sitting. The shower head was instead hanging from a random spot on the wall. The entire bathroom was covered in tile, including the walls, turning it into essentially one giant shower, if you kept your toilet and sink in your shower.

I didn't have to worry about spraying water everywhere (you were expected to) or stepping over the edge of the tub onto a slippery floor. It also seemed like it would be really convenient for cleaning. Forget the mop and toilet sponge, just spray cleaner everywhere and wash it down the drain. The downside was having to either remove your socks or wear slippers if you wanted to use the toilet or sink just after you've showered, when there was still water on the floor. A small price to pay for the largest shower I've ever been in.

So back to my stroll. I had printed a small map of the area before I left home and used it to wander in the direction of the local metro station. On the opposite side of the station from my hotel, I encountered a really great open-air market. The covered alley was packed with little old ladies bundled-up against the cold selling produce, spices, what I assumed were various types of kimchi, live sea creatures of many shapes and sizes, parts of freshly butchered land animals, and even some prepared dishes, mostly of the fried variety. It was everything that my vision of what a local market in Asia should be, and I got that "yes I really am traveling, and it's pretty cool" feeling. I didn't buy anything since I had lunch coming soon, but I imagine I will be back to that market many times.

It was back to my hotel to wait for my new coworker. When he arrived with his girlfriend, they asked me where I wanted to eat. I told him I wanted to try something Korean, since I'd only had Korean food one time before in my life and that was at more of a "fusion" restaurant.

They took me to a little place across from the city market I'd been to earlier. I let them order for me since everything on the menu was in Korean, and I wouldn't know what was good even if I could have read it. We ended-up sharing a pot of kimchi jigae, or kimchi stew. It turned out many dishes in Korea were shared. Although single servings were available even in Korean-style restaurants, the usual way of eating was to order one giant pot of something for the whole table. The main dish, whether single serving or family size, was always accompanied by a series of smaller dishes (also shared) called "banchan". The banchan served varied by season and by whatever the chef had in the back room. Banchan were awesome because they were included in the price, many of them were delicious, and you could ask for free refills on the good ones.

For dinner, we met up with some more people and hopped on the metro to Songtan. I'm glad I had someone to navigate because the station was very confusing. The tracks for the metro were in the same area as for the long distance trains, and the only discriminator between which platform was for which type of train seemed to be one of the little train symbols was colored green and the other was colored orange. I don't mean to be English-centric, but could I get an "M" or something? Also, the electronic arrival boards for the metro didn't list either scheduled or estimated arrival times, only the name of the station the train was currently at. That was not at all helpful to someone who didn't know the train system and couldn't read Korean well yet anyway.

Despite the fact I was thoroughly confused, we got to Songtan without any trouble. Songtan was a city a bit south of Seoul that mainly contained the American Osan Air Base. It was apparently a good place to sample some restaurants that were a bit more "international" than those found in Asan. Lined with bars and shops selling "American" goods, the main drag seemed a little gloomy, but it was hard to tell because it's winter and everything seems a little gloomy.

I put "American" in quotes because it was sometimes hard to tell what was "real" and what was a knockoff or "counterfeit". I'm not quite sure I agree with the idea that you can "counterfeit" a sports jersey, but many uniforms of questionable provenance were available for purchase. On the other hand, sometimes it was really easy to tell what was fake. For example, one vendor promised us "High quality DVDs. Just copied yesterday."

We came to Songtan to eat dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse. It was a bit like those that I'd been to in Texas, but the meat wasn't as good and the salad bar was basically non-existent. I was disappointed that the salad bar was bare since that's been the highlight of my trips to Brazilian steakhouses in the US. I'm probably not their average patron, though. The price of all-you-can-eat-meat was $25, so a bit less than in the US even if the meat didn't look as good. One thing that was outrageously expensive tonight was the hot chocolate in a nearby coffee shop. It was $4 for a wide but not too deep cup. I was freezing at the time, so I guess it was worth it, but I won't be buying a lot of hot chocolate in South Korea.

I only have one picture from today to post because my primary camera is back in the US awaiting repairs after the function wheel randomly stopped working. Actually it turns out it wasn't so random. It's a common problem with the Olympus e510 and usually happens after a few years due to corrosion on the wheel's circuit board. Other than this one thing, though, I've been nothing but happy with the camera, especially for the price I got it at. Most my photos on TravelPod have been taken with that camera. Anyway, enough about the camera already. Hopefully it will be repaired in time for spring, when I expect to start my major sightseeing. And hopefully spring won't be that far away because I am freezing.

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