This weekend we decided to head into Seoul. We had agreed that we wanted to go ice-skating at City Hall Plaza. We’d intended to go ice-skating at City Hall in Cardiff last year, but for whatever reason we never actually got around to it. It was the first time that I’d ever gone ice-skating. In summary I think you could describe it as a pitiful, shambolic attempt. Despite falling over a mere 3 times (not bad for a first attempt I felt!) it was just embarrassing. The only people that had to hold onto the sides to go around were the small 5-year-old children with their parents helping them, and me, with Amelia guiding me along for moral support until she got bored. I felt like a small child learning to ride a bike for the first time. I hold my parents responsible for not taking me when I was little.
Everybody seemed to delight in laughing at my lack of co-ordination and obvious awkwardness on the ice – so much so that the Korean News Cameras present even focussed on me as I ‘blazed’ past them and managed to capture me taking a tumble. I have no idea if it made the Korean News at 10 on Saturday December 18th 2010. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it managed to find its way onto the Korean You’ve Been Framed equivalent under the topic ‘Retarded Foreigners’ or such like at some point in the future.
After ice-skating we headed into Myeongdong, at the heart of downtown Seoul. You can buy almost anything imaginable from here – from world-renowned designer stores to tiny market stalls. Korean cities may lack in aesthetic quality by day, but at night they really do come alive. Seoul is pretty spectacular – it is a vast array of bright lights, advertisements, giant television screens seemingly on every other street corner and more people than I could ever hazard guess at estimating the number of. Seoul has over 20 million inhabitants, that’s more than the entire population of Australia in one city, in an area a tenth of the size of London. Imagine it at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon on the Saturday before Christmas. Yes it was busy.
Seoul certainly isn’t for everyone, and we’d never want to live there – but it’s pretty cool to go in and have a blast of the big city for a weekend or two if we decide we want to experience what it feels like to be in civilisation once again, with so many places and things to see and do. In stark contrast to Hwacheon at this time of year. In fairness, we’ve been quite happy just chilling and relaxing in Hwacheon recently. It’s more than adequate for us and as I’ve said previously we’ve adapted and settled into life in our small little town. That said, our command of the Korean language still leaves a lot to be desired…!
Anyway, as I was saying we walked around for a while, did a spot of christmas shopping (presents for co-teachers – they’ve done a lot for us so it would be rude of us not to say thank you!) and then we discovered the Lotte Department Store. It was enormous. It must be comparable in size to the Highcross in Leicester in terms of ground floor area, but with 11 floors instead of two. It wasn’t even a shopping mall – it was one store. Kind of put John Lewis and Selfridges to shame. We didn’t have too much of a look around, as shopping isn’t high in our priorities – but it was certainly a mecca for huge numbers of Korean women ambling round in their incredibly expensive and supposedly ‘stylish’ outfits (Leopard skin coats, lots and lots of Burberry etc…) with countless designer bags in hand.
We then headed off to find something to eat. We found a lovely Indian/Nepalese restaurant on the 5th floor of some obscure high-rise in Myeongdong. It looked fairly ‘naff’ with a cheap sign on the outside and being on the 5th floor, but we fancied a curry so thought we’d take the lift (I very nearly said ‘elevator’ – awful from me I know) and check it out. We weren’t to be disappointed. The place was lovely and we shared a Chicken Korma and Saag (although the Korma was more like a Tikka Masala – not that I was complaining!). Despite being in the centre of Seoul (which is supposedly the second most expensive city in the world to live in) we paid a little over 10 Pounds for the two of us. It was so good to taste Indian Food once again. Over the course of the weekend we managed to have 3 lovely meals at good restaurants for no more than 45 Pounds for the two of us. We managed to squeeze in Italian and Mexican. It was such a joy to taste Indian and Mexican food again! We’d almost forgotten how much we missed it…
We then spent Saturday night watching Harry Potter at the cinema. Amelia enjoyed it – I don’t share quite the same passion for the movies as I do the books. Sunday morning we paid a visit to the Korean War Memorial/Museum.
The Korean War Memorial was quite impressive, they had inscribed the names of every Korean and UN soldier that had been killed during the war onto huge tablets. It was shocking to see how many lives had been wasted, it was especially poignant when you saw how many men had been killed by the state, as the list was broken down by their home states. They had many tanks and aeroplanes, I appreciated this. I’m not sure that Amelia shared my enthusiasm quite as much. Either way we enjoyed it and it brought back many good childhood memories of trips to Duxford!