Weekend Walks: Namsan Tower and Namdaemun

I’d never call myself a hiker but I do love to walk from place to place.  Today I went on a really great walk through Namdaemun market and from there all the way to the top of Namsan tower.

Namdaemun is one of the coolest market areas you’ll find in Seoul.  It’s huge and there’s all sorts of things for sale.  I saw tons of stores for glasses and clothes and food and cameras.   I’d been there before but it had always had a very precise purpose–it was fun to just wander around and look at all the crap for sale at the different stores.

From there I wandered on to Namsan Park.  I started out by visiting a traditional house, which showcased how old timey Koreans lived.

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Beachside dining in Busan

So Haeundae beach is awesome.   And right by the beach there are a bunch of restaurants there who serve the beach bums.

On my trip with “Lost in Seoul” we hit up two of the more popular joints there.  The Fuzzy Navel and Breeze Burns.

The Fuzzy Navel is a Mexican restaurant with a bar.  They offer a really wide selection of drinks, especially cocktails.  For my money though if the restaurant is named the Fuzzy Navel I’m not going to get clever and try to outsmart them.

The ambience of this place was really nice.   It had a nice beachside bar feel to it with the music rolling.  I only wish there was an actual bar right on Haeundae.  I’d love to be drinking one of their cocktails while I sunbathe or right after I walk up out of the water.

I ordered a Fuzzy Navel.  That was delicious.  I also ordered a chicken burrito and Nachos with toppings piled high.  ( I had just spent 45 minutes in brutally cold ocean water I was starving) Read more of this post

Half-way

CalendarIt’s been far too long since I blogged.  Sorry, wish I even had a great excuse other than laziness.

I’m about half-way through my time  in Korea.  So I thought I’d reboot my blog by writing a short high-level look back.

The big surprise is how much I like little kids. I actually really, really enjoy little kids.  There’s something about kids, a bubbling energy, that can really be a thrill.  When I was coming here I was really dreading having to see little kids every day and I wanted high school kids.  Now that I’m here though I realize that teenagers are kind of joyless little jerks.  There’s something special about a nine year old girl jumping up and down because she did well on a test that older people just don’t have.

The worst part has been the moments of feeling really dumb.  I’ve lost my phone twice here.  Gotten it back both times but I feel incredibly awkward calling it and not being able to speak but a scant amount of Korean and trying to set up a way to get my phone back.  Or sometimes I’m talking to a cabbie and I know I’m saying where i want to go correctly and he just can’t understand me because I have an American accent.  Or even worse if I don’t know for sure how something is pronounced it’s kind of frightening hoping he heard me correctly.  Especially in a city where some of the places sound frighteningly similar.

Possibly the worst experience of this kind was when all the teachers at my school had a meeting with the then owner of the school and him yelling at all of us in Korean for nearly an hour without a translator.  I felt so totally lost, and nervous, especially for one of my co-workers whose name kept being weaved in and out of the Korean.

The best part is just how many cool people I’ve been able to meet.  I made a list the other day of everyone I’ve met in Korea the other day that I have some interaction with either in real space or online.  Excluding students it was already at nearly 100 names.

So many of them have really been awesome.  Co-workers, D&D buddies, girls I went out with,  it’s a pretty long list.  They really have been what has made the first six months living in Korea worthwhile.

Trip to Oz

So I went to Oz yesterday.  It was pretty awesome.  For those of you who don’t know Oz is the name of LG’s 3G phone network so most of their phone shops are labeled Oz.

The guy at the store was super helpful, even if he didn’t speak much English and my Korean is coming along slowly.  I looked at a few unmarked phones and asked the ever useful Korean phrase Eolmayeyo how much?   And he looked up the prices.

I found a pretty nice Samsung phone, pretty basic model with a camera and Mp3 player…though it needs a micro-SD card.  They also through in a nice hard plastic carrying case which turned out to be a plus as i accidentally dropped it in the cross walk today on the way to dinner.

There was a fair amount of pointing  to numbers and them writing things out for me on a calculator, then they even were nice enough to call up their friend who spoke english with a bit of a south African accent and she made sure I understood everything i had agreed to ( i did actually either explicitly or implicitly in the case of if i go over my minutes I pay more than the base rate)

As an aside my green card says LG on it because one of my bosses offices is in an LG building.  So the guys at the LG store thought I worked for LG and were incredulous at me buying a Samsung phone.   I’m sure somewhere in America there is a corporate rivalry like this.  But I’ve never experienced anything like that.

They asked me twice and then called someone who was fluent in English and while she was asking me other things about the price she asked me if I was sure I wanted to buy a Samsung.

All in all I think i ended up with a pretty nice model.  I’ve got a few of my friends numbers in the phone.  What really strikes me is how much easier the cell phone makes life.  Last night I went to see Avatar with several people from all over Seoul.  We only had two forms of communication, the cell phone and facebook messages.  And it all went off without a hitch.

Gaming in Korea

Sorry about the lack of updates recently I’ve been sick for about a week.

Before I came here I’d heard how PC gaming was big in Korea. I’d read a lot of magazine articles that compared it to the Japanese console market. The comparision is, terrible.

The Japanese game market, arcades excluded, functions in very similar ways to the American game market. Basically it’s all based on getting people to buy your game and single and multiplayer games are both big bussiness.

The Korean game market has no single player games. Playing Starcraft’s campaign in a PC bang (read bong–an arcade for PC games pictured above) is considered rude. One of the reasons behind the lack of single player games is they pirate everything that isn’t nailed down here. In general spending money up front on games is becoming rarer and rarer. The free to play model is such big bussiness here it’s all setup on the heroin dealer system the first hit’s free. But I think that really limits the kinds of games that they can make to stuff with really good quick appeal.

At this point i should point out that there is a console scene here and piracy is still an issue there although less so. One of my students had a flash drive in her DS though. I’m not really seriously morally bothered by piracy. I’ve chosen not to do it for years now but plenty of my friends do but seeing what happens when Piracy is unrestrained makes me dislike it a lot more.

The games they do play here other than stuff from Blizzard and NC soft mostly aren’t all that well known in the West. Warcraft, Starcraft, Lineage, Diablo, Aion you’ve probably all heard of those but then you get to a bunch of free to play stuff like KartRider, Sudden Attack, Dungeon Fighter Online a lot of clones of better games. Also Maplestory and Fifa Online are huge here. At least with my students…almost all of them are into either one or both of them.

Other than Blizzard there really isn’t a Western publisher with any kind of substantial presence here in the PC space. I have seen Xbox 360s with American games in Emart and Homeplus but i’ve yet to see anyone buying that stuff.

Oddly enough the PC bangs advertise how great their computers are…and then Koreans go in them and play Starcraft and Kartrider both of which I’ll bet you could run on one of the more advanced cellphones here if you really wanted to.

Oh great a top of the line Nvidia card to play Starcraft locked at 640x 480.

The saving grace for me is that steam works here and they’ll let you bring an external storage device into the PC bang and play whatever. I just got a 500 gig hard disk which powers through the USB to take with me on a gaming bender.

Soup and sandwiches reconsidered

I’ve always liked soup quite a bit.

But right now I’m eating soup probably more meals than I’m not eating soup.

One of the first things I learned about food from the grocery store in South Korea is that Ramen here is way better than the ramen cups we got back in America.  They were okay but even the regular like package of six ramens for like 3,000 won are really pretty good.  I’ve been getting one from E-Mart that is bright red and spicy enough to light your mouth on fire.

But it doesn’t end  there, soups have become one of my favorite things to order out on a budget.  I got sick of gim bap pretty quickly.  There’s just something about it that doesn’t really make me feel like a good meal.  But then I was introduced to some of the soups that the gim bap place near my building has.

Kimchi chigae I’ve talked a little bit about but it’s a fantastic soup provided you have a nice supply of water ready to go with your soup.  It’s also the best cure for sinus congestion I’ve ever seen as it just clears me up better than most nasal mists.  It’s seemingly always served in a small black bowl, like seen above ,and it’s usually still boiling when it’s served .

Another thing I’ve found that I’m really enjoying is Mondu ramen (phonetically anyways)   It’s a dumpling soup with ramen and it’s served in a semi-spicy watery broth.

Shabu-shabu was probably the healthiest thing I’ve had since I’ve arrived.  They put a pot of broth on to heat up at your table on a fire and then they provide you with a tray of vegetables ranging from lettuce, to sprouts to pumpkin to mix into your soup with some very small cuts of lean beef.   It’s really an all you can manage vegetable bonanza and the broth is quite delicious.

The other thing I’ve had quite a bit is stuff from Paris Baguette.  It’s a Korean chain of bakeries that has just got a few branches back stateside.  They make the best sandwiches I’ve had in a long time.  Their use of a croissant like bread reinforces my long standing position that it is the bread not the meat which makes a good sandwich great.  I especially like the cranberry walnut chicken sandwich and their ham sandwich isn’t half bad itself.

All in all Korea has yet to let me down with a really bad meal.

Public transit

I took the bus at Ohio State and that was pretty nice.  I had a 30 minute shuttle to just outside my door for three years with the University village system.  And then their was the CABS and COTA so there were always a lot of options for public transit.

And that system, however wonderful it is for the midwest, just can’t even hold a candle to the public transit system here in Seoul.

The first option for getting around longer distances  in the city are the fast Subway cars.  They’ll cart you to just about every corner of the city from Inchon all the way  across Seoul proper.  The kicker is the subway stations are incredibly clean and safe.  The only bad side about these is that they’re only open till midnight so the 5 am subway is often crowded with people going home.

Getting off the subway will often lead to getting on the bus.  Now we have buses in Ohio and they’re alright.  But the buses here in Seoul are really amazing.  They run at frequent intervals most places.  My friend has a like 15 minute bus wait occasionally if he gets out at the worst possible time to find one particular route to take him to a satellite city.

My bus on the other hand is seemingly always there.  Like literally always during  bussiness hours.  The other amazing thing is there is a bus lane through the whole city so  you never wait in traffic on a bus.  Just zip from here to there.

Now, as I mentioned before,   the subway does close early which brings us to the last leg of  Seoul’s public transit system.  The Taxis.  They’re kind of expensive, for Seoul–but a trip across a good chunk of the city won’t even add up to 20 bucks.  Sometimes got to help them get there so if you don’t speak  korean that’s not so hot but whatever.

The nice thing is they do run all night and aren’t any more expensive at 3 in the morning than they were at 6 the night before.