Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seoul to Japan to Seoul again - Seoul

It was a whirlwind of 10 days at the end of my contract at Aqua Planet on Jeju. There will be multiple entries to cover the various cities I visited because there's just too much adventure to fit it all in one post :)


After I finally reached Seoul (you can check out that story in my last entry here), I spent the next week practicing and recording orchestra excerpts and concerto expositions for potential summer jobs. Hopefully it will all pay off in the near future in the form of a paycheck as opposed to just the long term productivity of extra practice hours and more solidity in the pieces.

If you'd like to watch me play selections of some of the hardest music written for violin in the orchestra repertoire you can see me on my YouTube channel here.

Now I'm back in the Unites States, but the following entries are short tales of the various places I visited during my 10 day vacation.


After practicing and recording for a week indoors I had one day on my own before a friend from the United States flew over to join me on my vacation trip.

The day was beautiful, although cold, and I headed to Gangnam-gu and Apujeong for a much desired and long overdue appointment with a highly reviewed spa parlor. The lovely ladies spoke great English and when they realized that I'd booked more services than they'd scheduled in their book they accommodated me and had two girls attend to me to squeeze me through their tight schedule. It was blissful and now I'm spoiled for sure. Everything was super clean and super hygenic and they charged my phone behind the counter while I was being serviced and then spent quite some time calling the place I wanted to visit next to get me directions. The business is called Samantha Waxing and I highly highly recommend!

I felt so so so good and was so happy. They were all laughing
as I danced around the lobby with a huge smile on my face :-D
While I was waiting for the directions to my next locations I spotted an English sign outside the window that said "Super Juice". Some of you may now that I'm a huge fan of juicing and drink veggie juice whenever possible. While living on Jeju I had not had the opportunity once in 8 months and my body was unhappy, as was I, at the less than ideal nutrition I was getting.

So not knowing exactly what "super juice" meant, and guessing it was only fruit juice at best, I walked over to check it out and low and behold, they had a small selection of actual veggie juices just like you'd see at Whole Foods or someplace similar.

They juiced me up a drink right there and I was now so happy I could have burst but instead I skipped delighted out the door and started toward my next destination.

After a few steps I looked down at my half drank smallish cup and thought, "There is no way I will be satisfied only drinking one of these", so I turned around and greeted a slightly confused staff with a smile and another juice order. They'd never had anyone like me I don't think because they took my picture a couple times and asked my name and where I was from and where I lived in Korea and just stopped working entirely for a while.

Armed with two cups of fabulous freshly juiced deliciousness, I headed toward my next destination, a visit with some Dr. Fish. If you've never heard of Dr. Fish, they are fish that eat the dead skin off your feet and hands. They're popular in Asian countries and I'd heard of them, but never tried one and after working 8 months in all the salt water at the aquarium, my feet were more the ready for some love and attention of lots of little fish mouths.

I took this picture at the beginning before all the fish had swam over
and entirely engulfed my apparently delicious feet!
Feeling absolutely superb in all manner of body both inside and out, I concluded my daytime activities and headed toward Sinchon to meet a couchsurfing friend for some live jazz. Jazz is not the typical music of Korea and I didn't have high expectations, but it was quite nice really. Since I hadn't been to a club in over 8 months it was a welcome respite. We drank some tea, chatted, and soaked in the live jazz scene at Jazzda for what it was worth in Seoul.

The jazz club concluded my amazing first day playing tourist in Seoul and was especially rewarding after a long week of hard work put in recording.

I will mention here that I actually did get hired by one of the companies I recorded a video for, so all the time and effort put in was immediately rewarded this go around. If you're anywhere near Ohio this summer, stop by the Ohio Light Opera in Wooster to enjoy a musical with a LIVE orchestra!

And don't forget to say hello while you're there :)

The next day I woke up fairly late, gathered all my luggage together and met another couchsurfing friend for lunch. It was nice to catch up since we'd met at the beginning of my contract in Korea. Per the usual gentleman that he is, he helped me with all my luggage to check in to my hotel room for the next couple of days before saying goodbye. I gratefully showered, unpacked, and then hopped the metro for the long ride (think between and hour and hour and a half) from downtown Seoul to Incheon airport to pick up my friend from the States. Once you get to the airport it's another half hour walk through the maze of passages to the baggage area. I use the word maze only because there are many passage ways, but not because they are not easy to navigate. I found the Korean subway system far easier to use than the Japanese, although I would use either any day over any "system" in America.... My timing was perfect because as I was walking up, my friend was walking ?down? after just picking up his luggage so neither of us had to wait for the other. After a long flight (with no sleep) my friend was tired so he slept off some jet lag and I finished some backed up internet business I still needed to address.

The next day after a lazy morning and some coffee and pastries, we headed to our first tourist spot, Changdeoukgung Palace. Unfortunately, after we walked all the way there, we discovered it was closed on Mondays. Sigh. Having worked six days a week, I was unfamiliar with the Monday closing normalcy across much of Asia and so hadn't considered it in the schedule. Luckily, we hadn't walked far and the day wasn't bad weather, so we headed on to the next spot, Bukchon Hanok Village. This village is one of the largest in South Korea, and is a protected village of the traditional houses. You can get a walking map at one of the info kiosks and walk around for free. Because people live there they ask you to be quiet and respect their privacy, but it's a neat little area to get a glimpse of the older living style.

Then, after asking if it was open, we headed to the next nearest temple, Gyeongbok Palace, which was open on Monday and closed on Tuesdays so tourist have one or the other to see at least. I was really underwhelmed though. You couldn't get anywhere close to the temple. Even the stairs leading up to it were blocked off. You could walk around the grounds and see statues and displays of various kinds and there was a museum on the property which was all in Korea.

After we left Gyeongbok Palace, we got lost wandering the streets toward the tower, meandering through various underground shopping malls (Seoul has numerous underground malls) as well as above ground street mazes. We finally found the market we had been aiming for and after walking around and asking directions a couple of times, we located "restaurant alley". All the ajummas (Korean middle aged women), welcomed us and tried to direct us into their local restaurant. At the end of the alley my friend spotted a sign proclaiming an English menu so he chose to eat there. We had a pleasant bowl of soup each since it was rather cold outside.

I had a sweet potato chowder and my friend had a dumpling stew.
After the nice warm lunch, we braved the cold Korean winter weather again to hike up to the top of Seoul Tower. It's not the highest tower in the world but it has a fabulous view and the tower windows are not obstructed much so good panoramic pictures are easy to take (as opposed to the Tokyo Sky Tree I'll write about later). 

A city divided in two. The river is actually quite large.

The Seoul Tower was fantastic and we enjoyed it thoroughly. But it had been a long day so it was time to head back toward the hotel to rest before our next adventure; the DMZ/Panmunjom Tour.

Check back soon for the entry of my visit to one of the most intense country borders in the world.