Friday, 8:50 pm
After the amusement park, we went to downtown Gyeongju. About halfway through the ride, our cab driver turned the television mounted above his radio on. It was quite an experience driving with a guy who was watching TV as he drove.
Downtown Gyeongju is chockful of boutiques and corporate stores. We ended up deciding to eat at Pizza Hut. And I'm glad that we did. It was amazing! It was the best of both worlds. We weren't in the mood for a full-on Korean meal so a pan pizza with kimchi and bulgogi hit the spot. We thought about seeing a movie but both of the theaters were showing Pirates of the Caribbean and we just weren't in the mood for two and a half hours of Johnny Depp preening. For Youthlarge's take on the day's meals, read this.
The cab driver on the way back insisted that our hotel didn't exist because he had never heard of it. Youthlarge directed him to the place but he still didn't believe her. He pulled into the hotel entrance but overshot the front doors. As Youthlarge insisted to him that this was our hotel, he pulled up to another cabbie to ask if he had ever heard of our hotel. Even when that cabbie told him that he was currently parked in front of it, he refused to believe it. We handed him his fare and hightailed it out of the cab before he decided to go ask more people for directions and take us further from the entrance.
The lobby seemed dead and despite the promise of some amazing karaoke, we headed to our floor bedding for some sleep.
The day did not start well. We were awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of a snoring man that we could clearly hear in all of his glory through the walls. However, the earplugs that I packed did the trick. Upon waking up, we discovered that the shower towels given to us were the size of hand towels.
After showering, I was very happy to see that there was major league baseball on TV because the Korean pitcher Jae Seo was pitching for Tampa. During the game, there was an ad for the Padres game the next day because Korean pitcher Chan Ho Park was on the mound. It was a great ad mixing closeups of Park with long shots, quickly edited, althernating between color and black and white. Then the word "Korean." Followed by "Major Leaguer Fighting." Then even bigger "Korean Major Leaguer Fighting." Best ad ever, I believe.
We took a tour of the sights of the town. There are many relics, temples, Buddha statues, and the like from the Silla dynasty. My favorite fact that I learned was that King Munmu so loved his people that he wanted to protect them even after his death. So he had a floating tomb built for him in the East Sea (easily seen from the beach) so that when he came back to life as a dragon, he would be nearby to protect his people. By the way, the town was pretty nice and the other hotels were very nice. We just happened to be staying at a bizarre place.
After the tour, we took a train to Suwon, a city about an hour south of Seoul. Youthlarge's dad's oldest friend Mr. Park and his wife picked us up at the train station and dropped us off at the hotel. Mrs. Park gave us matching shirts to wear the next day. Not that Youthlarge and I are the kind of couple to parade around wearing matching shirts but if we were, we definitely wouldn't wear shirts with a skateboarding teddy bear. Please keep that in mind if you ever choose to shower us in any future matching attire. Apparently, it is very common here for couples to match their clothes with matching couple tees.
The Parks' son Joonpil hung out with us all day. We took a city tour of Suwon and then hung around town for a spell. I've got to say that the mall parking attendants in Suwon are the most graceful parking attendants I've seen in my life. Lovely attire. It was almost like ballet.
Everywhere we drove, there were signs promoting the city with the cheerful declaration of "Happy Suwon." Also, Youthlarge noticed a sign that stated that Suwon is "The first certified safe city in Asia." In case you were wondering.
In the evening, we went to a Suwon Blue Wings soccer game. As we crossed the street, a guy on a motorcycle didn't see the red light at first. When he tried to brake, he began to skid. He violently fell to the pavement. His helmet made a loud crack on the ground. It was quite scary. Many people came to help him. Amazingly, he was okay. He seemed quite dazed and was clutching his arm but it could have been a lot worse.
Anyway with that out of the way, we headed into the game. It was both Youthlarge's and my first ever soccer game. If I lived in a country where soccer was king, I would become hooked. It was so much fun. The Blue Wings took a 1-0 lead right after halftime. With about ten minutes remaining, Seoul scored a goal. It was pretty bad - the Blue Wings' goalie seemed completely frozen and did nothing to stop the goal. One of the Seoul players posed for Suwon's chanting minions as a taunting gesture only to be bombarded by water bottles. The game was at a stadium built for the 2002 World Cup. There were only about 10,000 fans there. Perhaps the steady rain didn't help attendance.
At halftime, seemingly everyone rushed to the large hot water carafes for their ramen. Not much beer was consumed by the crowd which surprised me. We bought beers and they were warm. I thought people got drunk at these things.
After the game, Mr. and Mrs. Park drove us back to Seoul.
A steady soaking rain. All day. I guess that is why they call it the monsoon season. The forecast for the next seven days here and in Japan calls for the exact same thing. Lovely.
We hung out with Youthlarge's cousin Sueun all day. I already knew her because she recently lived with Youthlarge's parents for a year as part of her English studies. We ended up spending part of the day at Lotte World - the world's largest indoor amusement park. There was a lot of couple tees action going on at Lotte World.
We woke up early for a tour of the DMZ - an hour north of Seoul. Luckily, it was only overcast with a occasional slight drizzle for most of the morning. The most interesting part of the tour was the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. Apparently, N. Korea has built about 20 or so tunnels for an invasion of the South. Only four have been found so far - the last in 1990. We walked down the S. Korean built ramp down 25 floors to reach the infiltration tunnel - designed for 10,000 troops to pass through. The tunnel is an extremely tight fit so it would have been insane to have 10,000 soldiers pass through. We were able to walk for a bit on the S. Korean side before we reached the walled off part. Through it, a sliver of light passed through but I couldn't see anyone on the other side. However, if I start receiving harassing messages from the N. Korean gov't, I'll know why. Walking back up that blasted ramp was interesting.
From there, we headed to the observatory. An English - Korean soldier briefed us on the DMZ in a briefing room straight out of The Manchurian Candidate. He pointed out things to us on a model. Directly in front of us through floor to ceiling glass - the DMZ and further on N. Korea was in our grasp. Outside, we were allowed to take pictures from the designated yellow line which basically didn't allow you to really see anything. Tourists posed for pictures with Korean soldiers.
Our tour guide told us about the N. Korean propaganda village right past the DMZ line. Each country was allowed to have one village within in an attempt to dissuade attacks. However, no one actually lives in the N. Korean vilage. It is all fake. All of the lights in the supposed village go on and off in every house at the same time each day. She also told us about how the N. Korean gov't has asked for a cut of the money that the S. Korean gov't is making on the tours of the DMZ. S.Korea kindly told them to shut up and leave them alone or so our guide said. We also learned that Korea has been invaded 900 times in its history. Youthlarge commented, "No wonder we have han." Also, the DMZ has become famous for the flourishing wildlife in the wake of no human intervention.
We also went to a train station that apparently will be a big deal once it connects to other rail lines. Also, it signals hope at a possible reunification of the Koreas. Bush was there in 2002 at the grand opening. There is a lot of land cleared, ready for factories and warehouses to be built on. Right now though, there are only a few trains each day from Seoul to the DMZ. And if you S. Korean, you have to get the proper papers to travel on it because the fear is that N.Korean defectors will board the train to safety and that ain't no good politically in this era of hope of reunification. It is an odd scene - a clean, modern station that is empty except for tourists and a couple of soldiers. The slogan of the station: "Not the last station from the South. But the first station toward the North."
Then we had some dinner with Joonpil and his sister Moka up from Suwon to see us. Now I'm drunk on Hite beer and contemplating drinking more at the bar hotel. Maybe Sueun will meet us after tutoring some kid in English.
I'm very sad though because of the rain. No Korean baseball for me. Both last night's game and tonight's game were rained out. Oh well, at least the Yakult Swallows - Hanshin Tigers game is on right now. Hopefully, we'll have better luck in Japan. We fly there tomorrow morning.
3 days ago