Kade kneels next to a stream formed by the San Francisco Glacier, about two hours outside Santiago, Chile.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

South Korea

One of the most interesting trips Kade and I made was to South Korea and Japan in 2004.  We were en route to Thailand after her stint at the ELI at the University of Alabama and first glimpse of my culture, the United States.  And since typically there's a layover in Seoul or Tokyo on flights from the US to Thailand, we opted to extend that layover to a vacation.   We were going to stay three weeks in South Korea and a week in Japan, before heading to Bangkok.  Luckily for us, we had one very good connection in Seoul, and that was Uncle Jim's (Dr. Jim Vann) long-time Korean friend, Dr. Lee.  In the YouTube video I made, Dr. Lee and his wife are in the first several slides.  There's also a photo of Uncle Jim and Dr. Lee showing off their catch from a fishing trip they enjoyed together in Panama City Beach, Florida.  Dr. Lee drove us to the DMZ that divides North and South Korea.  In addition to that, Dr. Lee and his wife took us to a couple of great restaurants - one where we experienced the best bulgogi ever!

And a link to a larger Asia map to get perspective on where South Korea is in relation to China, Thailand and Russia.  After ten days in Seoul, we took a bullet train south to the coastal city, Pusan.  Backdropped by mountains and bordered by the sea, Pusan offered lots of fabulous sightseeing, especially if you're interested in seafood, beaches and shopping!  From Pusan, we took a ship to Shimonoseki, Japan, where our friend Kana, who Kade studied with in Alabama, picked us up and drove us to her home in a small but very picturesque town in Wakayama Prefecture, an area renown for its orange groves.  Kana and her family rolled out the red carpet, and we are still friends of hers to this day.  On my next blog post, I will delve into the Japanese portions of this trip.  Once we completed our time in Japan, we took the ship back to Pusan, bullet-trained it north to Seoul, and stayed another week, making sure "no stone was left unturned." 

Here's an excerpt from an e-mail to Dad and others, where I shared bits about Pusan (or Busan):

busan city is smaller than seoul yet is much more beautiful. nice harbor filled with ferries, ships, fishing vessels, yachts and cargo boats; impressive skyline with mountainous backdrop; suspension bridges; fish market is really interesting; of course, local cafes plus international names, starbucks, baskin robbins, pizza hut;  and proximity to beaches makes it a favorite korean destination.

Here are some of my favorite aspects of South Korea.

Naengmyeon (aka Cold Noodles) I eat a lot, and love a variety of foods from various places, cultures, countries, etc.  This dish just happens to be one of my all-time faves.  To tell you how much I like it, Kade and I often arrange our air tickets - those times we just want to get to Thailand - so that our plane's 2-3 hour layover is in Seoul so we can eat authentic cold noodles, right in the airport.

Onsens (aka hot springs)  Leave your modesty at the door.  You shower, bathe and soak with a bunch of naked people.  Quite thrilling!

Internet Cafes, Many years ago the South Korean set a huge goal to have fiber optic cables throughout the country, accessible by anyone.  It was seen as a capital investment that would bolster the country's economy and increase its competitiveness.  They did it.  It worked.  The Internet cafes run 24/7 and many are outfitted with loveseats and concessions.  South Korea has the fastest internet service in the world.  I was very impressed!  

Public transportation, Modern, very efficient, well-designed and laid out.  You can drive, but there's not a need, at least in Seoul.  The subway and bus system are hard to navigate if you don't know Korean, but eventually you figure it out.  But, if you were native, gosh, you'd be pleased.  And between large cities, you have bullet trains.

Seoul's eclectic and unique coffee culture, It seems to me, outside of Paris, with its rich coffee tradition, Seoul has one of the most vibrant, interesting independent coffee scenes you can find.  The stylish young people who frequent the coffee houses are the only thing more appealing.
Seoul's royal palaces.  Sights to behold.

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