2014 Asian Games Athletics (Seoul)

I did a whole lot of nothing for most of today. For the most part I slept in and lazed around the hostel. Burning the candle at both ends caught up with me and a rest day was necessary. But of course it wasn’t all laziness and boredom.
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I went on a shopping expedition to a local grocery store to buy supplies for my cycle tour of Korea, which begins tomorrow. It was interesting to walk around and not know what things were. Even many of the vegetables were unfamiliar to me. So I took a guess and bought some items that seemed like they will fuel my body for a few days. One of the items I bought was Korean pancake mix so I made up a mix, added some vegetables and Korean meat product, and cooked up some lunch to share. It was pretty good. Not as good as the lady at the street stall makes but good for a first time.
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At 4.30pm I meet Julian in the hostel kitchen to go to the Asian Games Athletics. We were each given a couple of free tickets the other day so why not. It’s a little over an hour by subway and then we wait a little while at Geomam station for another guy from the hostel to join us. He is running a little late but that is no problem. A free shuttle bus takes us to the massive stadium. It’s quite spectacular and there are lots of spectators cheering on the athletes.
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The women’s hammer throw is on and it’s even more spectacular in real life than anything I’ve seen on television. The athletes are so strong and the hammer flies impossibly far through the air. A Chinese athlete wins and our Chinese friend from the hostel goes to talk to his countrymen. I snag a photo with the coach of the winning athlete. It’s a pretty cool moment.
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There is no allocated seating so we just explore the stadium a bit. The 110m hurdles heats are taking place on the opposite side of the track so we make our way there. Before long I find myself in a VIP area right near the track. It’s so cool to be this close to the action.
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After the hurdles we explore the stadium some more. Some Thai guys are wearing cool costumes and I ask for a photo. They seem to be having a good time.
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We manage to get really close to the games flame. As in, we stand at the top of the stadium seating and are only a few meters away from it. The flame is amazing. It seems to float on a water fountain that changes colour every few seconds.
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We find some crazy self-heating meals at a concession stand. You open a tab on the box then pull a plastic thing and suddenly steam starts coming out of the box and it heats up in your hands. Locals were watching us in amazement so this must not be a common thing here. The meal itself was okay. I wouldn’t eat it at home but as a stadium food it was better than the other option: two-minute noodles.
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We eat in the stadium watching the women’s and men’s 100m finals. An athlete from Qatar wins and the crowd behind us goes wild. Seriously, they filled the stadium with their cheering.
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Meanwhile the last of the brave men flew over the pole vault bar. Every time the Korean athletes jumped the crowd went wild. It was fantastic. Pole vault is amazing to see live. They really do fly.
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A late night snack at a street food vendor near the hostel rounded out a fantastic final night in Seoul.

A day of wow moments (Seoul)

It’s challenging to sit in the hostel and work while there’s a whole city waiting to be explored but I think about how cool it is not to be broke and the time passes quickly. Before I know it I have done my four hours work and am ready to hit the clean streets of Seoul. Julian, a German guy who travels the world watching soccer matches, asks whether I have plans and shall we hang out for the day. I’m always up for company and am taking an “almost always say yes” approach to my travels.
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We start the afternoon by catching the subway to Gyeongbokgung (Palace). The palace is nestled between Seoul’s glasswalled commercial highrises and ancient Bukaksan (Mountain). Ancient northern Asian shapes dominate the palace with amazing detail in the ceilings and a jumble of rooflines. Young school children who are probably no more than five or six years old follow teachers around the palace with bored looks on their faces. It’s quite cute to see and makes me think of my nephews, nieces and grandchildren.
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We arrive at the palace just in time for the changing of the guard ceremony. It’s a caucophony of sight and sound. Men in brightly coloured traditional uniforms march to the rhythm of loud drums and cymbals. It’s really cool.
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After leaving the palace we make our first food stop at a small market stall in Insa-dong. Some ladies dressed in traditional clothes sell us Korean pancakes for about KRW2,000. They are quite delicious.
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A random side alley takes us to a place that sells traditional Korean teas. We’re in Korea so why not. We order two random teas not knowing what we’re going to get. They taste interesting, particularly the brown one that I later learn is made from a Korean fruit. It’s earthy and sweet with a hint of barley or wheat flavour. It would be fantastic on a cold winter’s day but is a bit heavy for the warm summer’s day that we’re experiencing. The pinky tea is more refreshing but also very sweet. It is also made from Korean fruits. Apparently these teas have many health properties but I’m sure that one single cup isn’t enough to help me live to be 150 years old.
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Our next stop is definitely not good for the health. I would say it is more like heart attack on a stick. It’s me who sees the deep fried hot dog covered in potato chips (what Americans might call tater totts). It looks so disgusting but I can’t resist giving it a try. It tastes exactly like it looks: disgustingly good. And it’s good value for money in the sense that for KRW3,000 my stomach feels totally full and I definitely don’t need to eat for a little while.
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We find outselves among the crowds in Myeong-dong. Suddenly I’m definitely in over-crowded Asia again after a morning wandering relatively quiet streets. But, unlike my past experiences on this continent, there are no touts or pushy people. Everyone is just out enjoying an afternoon shopping. It is great to be in the throng meandering around seeing what’s what.
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I’m having fun so I play tourist by posing for a photo with a random Mario-like character and in a traditional Korean dress cut-out. I can’t explain the joy these simple silly acts give me but it makes me laugh. It’s just one of my quirks.
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We make our way to Namdaemun Market where we explore a section of the underground stalls that I missed the other day before we head up to Namsan Park. I walked up there on my first day but it is fantastic to revisit the view points now that I’ve been here in this crazy city for a few days. Dusk is coming quickly through an overcast sky and the first of Seoul’s lights are starting to come on. But twilight here is longer than in the subtropics so we don’t get the full light experience.
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Julian suggests we catch the elevator to the Seoul North Tower observation desk. The elevator ride is a zany experience in its own right. A lady instructs us to look at the massive television screen on the ceiling on which a short film shows us traveling upwards out of the atmosphere and into space. As the elevator stops she says something in Korean and then “30 seconds”. The views are fantastic. Seoul sprawls like liquid mercury between the surrounding hills and mountains. The photo above shows Itaewon where I have been staying this week.
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We hot-foot it to our hostel to drop my bag and for Julian to grab his camera because there’s a soccer match playing at the Asian Games between the People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Indonesia. The stadium is 1.5 hours away by subway and Julian is keen to add the game to his quest to watch as many live soccer matches as possible. I figure I’ll join him because I’m here in Seoul and how often will I get to watch the PRK play a live international. We arrive a few minutes late and can hear loud cheering in the stadium. The ticket line is more Indonesia than Korea. There are no lines and we just jump in amongst the Indonesian fans. Before long a Korean Asia Games official instructs us to form two lines. Reluctantly the Indonesians do as they’re told and we do too. Someone in authority must also have started to give instructions in the ticket box because the line finally starts to move (I think the crowd was a response to the slow ticket sales process).
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Inside the stadium I am surprised to realise that there aren’t that many people here but that they are quite capable of making a lot of noise. It’s fantastic.

The Koreans are supporting the PRK who win the match 4-1. They have a cheer squad representing the PRK on the far side of the stadium who we can’t get near and this well-coordinated cheer squad. The cheer leaders are sweating and work hard throughout the match. It’s a wonderful spectical.

The Indoensia fans outnumber the Koreans and are who we heard from outside the stadium. They are so enthusiastic that they cannot keep in their seats. They line the railings on the walkways waving flags and chanting. Their team is outclassed and outplayed but the fans cheer every chance, every tackle and sometimes for no obvious reason (even for Julian who has watched countless soccer matches). I took the video above from the far side of the stadium where only a few hundred people were sitting relatively quietly so all the noise is coming from the Indonesians on the other side of the pitch. You can hear their effectiveness.
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The game is the first live soccer match I’ve seen since the Sydney Olympics and I am glad I came. It’s under 23s just like the Olympics are but it’s still a rare chance to see any sort of international, particularly when the PRK are playing. My next stop on my adventure will be Indonesia and that’s where my maternal grandmother is from so it’s fantastic on so many levels that I probably can’t explain. From the South Koreans cheering for their northern counterparts to the stark contrast between the Korean and Indonesian cultures. Then there’s being here with a guy who is traveling the world watching soccer matches. And also my having Indonesian heritage. I think it’s one sporting event I will always remember.
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After the match we know we still have a long subway ride back to Itaewon and don’t want to stand so immediately after the final whistle we work our way to the front of the crowd. As we wait to cross the first main road between the stadium and subway everyone waits for the lights to change because the police are on patrol. After what seems like an eternity the lights change and a roar of applause and cheering rises from behind us. It’s the Indonesians cheering that the lights have changed. We have to cross another road to the subway and this time there are no police. A couple of Indonesians decide to make a run for it and before long the crowd has stopped the cars. Laughter fills the air as the Indonesians realise just how taboo this must be in ordered Korea where the Koreans are still standing waiting for the lights. We join the jaywalkers and i ma glad to be near the front of the crowd because the subway trains are already busy before it even arrives at our station. I guess Seoul never sleeps.
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Seriously, I took this photo of the subway exit at 11:35pm and this was not the soccer crowd. These were ordinary Koreans going about their Friday night.
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I was absolutely shattered as I walked up the street towards the hostel but also knew that I needed food. I don’t think a packet of biscuits and a Snickers Bar counts as dinner. Fortunately the street food vendors were all still doing their thing so we ordered a big Korean pancake with squid and vegetables.

I’m not usually a city guy but every day in Seoul I find something else to blow my mind.

Gwan-aksan hike

It’s difficult to haul myself out of bed after two ridiculously late nights but I am excited to be heading out to Gwan-aksan to hike with Mark, an American living here in Korea.
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My adventure starts with a bleary-eyed subway ride at 8:30am. It’s my first time on Seoul’s cheap and efficient public transport system. I think our Australian city council’s need to learn something from this system; particularly on the issue of price and ease of purchasing a ticket. Mark gave me specific instructions about which trains to catch and where to change lines. Fortunately, everything on the subway is translated into English from the ticket vending machines through to the station announcements. So I can relax and watch the locals doing exactly what locals do on public transport in Australia: stare at their mobile phones. It’s weirdly comforting how similar we humans all are.
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I meet Mark at the Seoul National University where he lives and works, and behind which the mountain rises. I know Mark from a Facebook page that was set up for people cycling from Seoul to Busan on the riverside paths. I have no idea what to expect from Gwan-aksan but am excited by the rock formations and exotic woods that I can see in the distance. In the photo above you can see the towers at the mountain’s summit that we walked to.
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A steep trail leads up the mountain. “Pali-pali” culture is alive and well even on the mountain paths, which “hurry hurry” ever upwards instead of wasting effort contouring. As we walk I see a squirrel jumping from tree to tree. Mark tells me that the squirrel is the most common mammal in the northern hemisphere but to me it’s as exotic as a lion or giraffe.
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We gain altitude quickly and soon have an amazing view over Seoul and it’s many mountains. I am amazed at both the vast sprawl; there is so much more to Seoul than I could see from Namsan Park the other day. But I am equally struck by the amount of green space. I guess that’s what happens when 25 million people live in high density housing; you can still have green space. The cityscape is an unattractive concrete jungle but mountains are stunning and I guess this is a sort of visual compromise.
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We reach a ridge-top path that is everything I equate to north-east Asian mountains. I am in hiking heaven on the exposed rock ridge. The views are stunning and the leaves are just starting to change colour on the trees; something that never happens in the subtropics that I still call home. While I don’t like to compare things with home when I travel, I do like to allow myself the luxury of being in awe of the exotic and new. It’s an important part of my travel experience to see everything with the eyes and heart of a child discovering the world for the first time. And the rocky trails, changing colour of leaves, squirrels and sight of a city sprawling out with a population of 25 million people (that’s the whole population of Australia in one city) is definitely a new experience for me.
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Ropes help us haul our way up a steep section of vertical rock. I’m not known for my comfort at heights but I have come to Korea with an open mind and that has given me confidence. This is a well-trodden path and the bolts are well-maintained so I grab the rope and rise to the challenge. I probably wouldn’t have done it alone but having a local with me is just the boost I need. Besides, this is turning into one of the coolest hikes I’ve ever walked.
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A mountain range stretches out to the south-east and gives a promise of the adventure and mysteries Korea will hold over the next month.
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Groovy rock formations stand tall atop the knolls and minor summits that we pass. I feel like exclaiming with excitement over and over again. My mind runs out of superlatives to describe what I am feeling and seeing.
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My heart is smiling as I hike this simple but amazing route. And we’re not even at the summit yet.
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Across the final ridge I see the most technical section approach. There is a cliff-side traverse protected by chains. Locals in their fancy North Face walking clothes (I have discoverd the brand of gear) make the traverse and some older men who are not wearing walking clothes barely use the chains on what looks like their daily ascent of the 624m mountain.
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I am a little slow as I make my way up the moderately exposed climb, holding up a local hiker behind me who shoots past at the first opportunity. While I am a little nervous I am not scared. The chains and ropes provide sufficient protection though I would prefer hiking boots to my barefoot-style joggers with their slippery soles.
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The summit is a slab of rock next to which there is a scientific observatory, telecommunications tower and military building. Koreans take photos of each other at the top and I also have one taken but unfortunately my phone doesn’t compensate for backlighting.
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After the exciting climb we take the easier path back down to the university. It’s beautiful and much quicker than the climb. There are more Koreans on this trail than the one we took up. Many have trekking poles and all wear the fancy walking clothes. Think brightly coloured North Face long pants that look a bit like ski pants, long sleeved technical tops, gloves, soft shell jackets and hiking packs. It’s a hot humid day and I wonder whether they are sweating under all those layers. To be honest though, this is the part of Korea I love: the all out commitment that you see everywhere. I mean, these people are going hiking so they commit to it wholeheartedly buying and wearing over a thousand dollars of specialised clothing. And they don’t just go for boring black, beige or blue. No, they wear oranges and yellows, pinks and greens in the brightest shades they can buy. It’s absolutely fabulous and I love it.
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We take lunch in the university cafeteria before Mark gives me some awesome tips for my month cycling the rest of Korea from Monday. He tells me all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Like where to find the best roads, where to find the best hikes, that I can just put my bicycle on a bus or in the back seat of a taxi and that cross-country buses are as cheap as chips. While I felt uncertain about my ride here I now feel confident and ready. But that adventure is not yet begun so let’s stay in the moment here 🙂

Korean BBQ

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It was raining when I woke yesterday morning so I decided to stay at the hostel and get some work done. While hanging out in the common room I asked some of the other guys whether they wanted to try some Korean BBQ. Participation in this dish requires a small group of people and I am enjoying the company of the guys at the hostel so it turned out to be a good idea. A couple of the guys have been in Korea for a few months or years so they got recommendations from Shrek, the host of our hostel, and we set off into neon lights of Itaewon to eat.

Korean BBQ didn’t disappoint. There was meat. There were vegetables. There were never-ending supplies of accompaniements. And there was favour. Beer and soju kept us socially lubricated and we soon found ourselves heading out to a bar for a few more beers and some dancing. Well, the other guys had a few more beers but we all danced. While I don’t intend to make a habit of partying, it has been nice to let my hair down a bit here.

A big day in Seoul

Fueled by a hearty hostel breakfast of jam on toast, cereal and fruit juice I set off on foot to explore Seoul. My goal for the day: Namsan Park and Namdaemun Market. According to my map this will be a long walk but I am feeling fit and ready for the challenge. Besides, the views from Namsan Park should help me orient myself in Seoul.
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I found an entry to Namsen Park about 2km from my hostel by following the roads around in the general direction of the Seoul North Tower, which seems to be visible from almost everywhere in Seoul. Koreans dressed in what I have started to call their “working clothes” were walking in and out of the park taking their morning exercise. Health seems to be very important here, particularly amongst the older generation who I presume are free to walk and cycle during the day because they are retired. They wear stylish exercise clothes that are difficult to describe other than to say that most outdoor clothing manufacturers would probably be proud to have these outfits on their racks.
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Partway up the climb I came to a “photo island”. It was a viewing platform from where I could take in the sprawl of Seoul. Despite the haze the view was stunning and gave me a better feel for the city than I could ever get at street level. I could see that, while the city is large, it is certainly not as vast and impenetrable as it seemed when I first arrived a day earlier. Despite the massive population that needs to be housed here, there is so much green space surrounding and criss-crossing the city; not to mention having Namsan Park right in the centre. It’s almost like the city is a large donut that is wedged between mountains in the centre and circling it’s edges.
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As I neared the Seoul North Tower I came to the Old Fortress Wall. The wall has been destroyed by many years of conflict and war but is now being excavated and rebuilt in places. It is a magnificent sight adds juxtaposition to the modernity of the tower. You can tell that it is a reconstruction but that in itself is seems to be an important part in the story that is Seoul.
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As I came to the top of the hill I also reached my first pagoda of my time in this country. Again, it seems to be a reconstruction that doesn’t quite have the character of some pagodas I saw in China but then the places I visited in China weren’t battered by the kind of wars that Seoul has seen throughout her history (something I didn’t appreciate until later in the day but I am getting ahead of myself). The pagoda still brought a whoop of “oh wow! I am actually here and seeing a pagoda” from me.
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Near the pagoda there was a sign that heralded the possibility of wearing a traditional costume for 2-3 minutes for free. Well, I didn’t need a second invitation. I wrote my name on the list and milled around for a few minutes waiting my turn. There was much touristy cooperation as I took photos of couples in their costumes and they photographed me in return. Two Korean women asked whether they could have a photo with me … hey why not so I am now part of someone else’s holiday story. By the time I walked down the mountain towards the Jung-Gu district my cheeks were sore from smiling.
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I wasn’t sure what to expect from tne Namaemun Markets. I had heard they were really big and that you can buy almost anything there. Well, that is true: you can. This is where live eel sales people mingle with gingseng shop keepers. Have girls, well there are so many beautiful pink items to dress them in and costumes for boys. Unfortunately, I am currently cash poor or I could have gone nuts buying my nephews, nieces and grandchildren gifts. That will have to wait for another day.
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The markets were also a great place to buy lunch. I started with a shrimp croquette, which was very tasty.
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I then opted for the safety of a donut before buying this random dough thing that ended up being filled with honey.
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After the markets I walked to nearby Naemdamun (Sungnyemun), which is a reconstructed gate and wall. I love the way that Seoul is restoring these traditional icons amidst such functionalism and modernity. There’s just something magnificent about it.
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This is a city where modernity and tradition sit side-by-side. It’s East meets West in the most fluid way I have experienced to date. Starbucks and Taco Bell coexist with street vendors. Modern shopping malls and side-walk vendors share the same space. And yet there are no touts. It hits me that this is what’s different here: I am not an ATM machine. The sight of businessmen and women in their fashionable suits and well-cut hair shows why this is the case. In fact, the Korean Won must be relatively strong because the cost of travel here is not that much cheaper than in Australia. Once you take out the taxation component of costs at home then the two countries are probably on par (with the exception of beer … beer here is cheap but perhaps that can be attributed to taxation in Australia too).
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I follow my map back towards Itaewon using the Seoul North Tower to triangulate my actual location. Street names are not common here so my map doesn’t list them. Rather small districts are marked and you can identify these from street signs too. I am doing well and congratulating myself on putting my rogaining skills to test in this urban jungle. And then it happens: I run into the American military base that takes up a huge area between Yongsan and Itaewon. It is not marked on any maps but is totally impassable. So I retreat about a kilometer and walk around it.
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The detour turns into a blessing in disguise as I now have to walk past the War Memorial of Korea, which turns out to the be the single greatest museum I have visited in my life to date. Like the rest of Seoul there is here in this museum a perfect blending of traditional and contemporary story telling. There are physical relics of various periods of Korea’s military history on display ranging from ancient carts to twentieth century weaponry and a futuristic vision of what soldiers will look like. Between all this there are two 4D and one 3D cineatic experiences to give the visitor a sense of what it would have been like to be caught up in the horrors of the Korean War or to fly in a fighter jet.
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And then there are the ultimate interactive experiences of being able to fire a model rifle on an indoor shooting range and clambering over real military vehicles in the outdoor display that is freely open and accessible to the public from the street. On a serious note though, the War Memorial of Korea is incredibly powerful and moving. As an Australian for whom war is something that soldiers go away to fight, I cannot imagine the terror that innocent people on either side of the conflict for the peninsula must have experienced. And I was moved almost to tears when I walked through the tunnel of stars and into the solar-water room. The men and women of Korea’s armed forces literally fought to save their country and, to make it more heartbreaking, they were fighting against their fellow countrymen. The desire for reunification is so obvious throughout the memorial and is something that I never appreciated. If you only see one thing in Seoul, this is the place to go because it gives such deep insight into the city and what it has experrienced. I’m no history buff and military history is not something I usually go out of my way to explore (I am not even going to the DMZ while I am here) but this is one museum that you must not skip.
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On returning to G. Guesthouse where I am staying I discovered Shrek and Fiona (the hostel owners) about to sit down to lunch in the common room and I, along with other guests in the common room, was invited to join them. This is one aspect of Korean culture that I could truly get used to: sharing meals. The food was delicious and included home made kim chee and home made pickles. I will always remember this experience for its simplicity and organic nature.
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But the day didn’t end there. It was after 3pm when we finished lunch so I did a couple of hours work before settling in for conversation with a group of guy who are also staying here. They hail from all over the world: Australia, America, Germany and Switzerland. Most were my age and it was nice not to be the old man in the hostel for once. Together we hit the streets of Itaewon sometime around 10pm to drink beer. This is something that is definitely a popular passtime in Korea and beer is cheaper than soft drinks. Now, I should caveat this with a disclosure that I don’t usually drink alcohol and, when I do, it is usually one glass of sweet cider about once a month. But cheap beer and the desire to let go and experience the local and backpacker culture resulted in me joining in for one half-litre “mug” of local amber. It went down well and is definitely something I will drink again while here. I can’t see myself drinking more than one on a given day but, to paraphrase the famous saying, “When in Seoul”.
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At about 3am there were no cool bars to go to anymore so we stopped to buy Taco Bell (cheap and open 24 hours) and more beer (well, the boys bought beer, I didn’t) before having a final drink in the rooftop cgarden at the hostel watching the lights of Seoul as the rain started to drizzle lightly on us. The rooftop garden is really cool as you can see form the photo I took during the daylight. It was 4am by the time I retired to my bunk happy, exhausted and still in love with Korea.

Day 1 in Korea and already I’m in love

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How can I even begin to describe my day? Should I write chronologically and tell you about the dramas of getting my bike out of the airport? Or should I jump in with my first impressions of Korean people? Or tell you about how I unwittingly drank half a bottle of rocket fuel alcohol within my first couple of hours in the country? I think I’ll just start by telling you today was amazing!
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The day started like so many adventure races do. Instead of following my instinct and going with the flow getting my gear out of Incheon airport, I asked around and listened to others who told me I couldn’t put my bike on the train unless it was boxed. This led to me carrying 45kg of gear as a backpack, dufffle and bike box through Incheon airport to the train station where I was told that I could just unpack the bike, load everything and catch the first carriage of the train. Lesson learned: have confidence in my abilities and intuition. I caught the train to Geomam, some 25 minutes in the general directon of Seoul. Once there I had my first taste of Korean donuts and I can report they are goo-ood.
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The Han River cycle path stretched out before me from Geomam, promising an easily navigable 40km ride into the city. I don’t know how I managed to get a photo of the route without people on it because there were cyclists everywhere. But I managed to click the camera at the one moment when I was alone. All down the path there were cyclists riding, sitting at shops drinking soju (a potent alcoholic beverage) or standing around talking with friends. And I don’t mean Australian standards of lots of cyclists. I mean thousands of cyclists taking a spin in the sunshine. Most had full length cycling kit, face masks for the sun (I asked someone what they were for) and hard tail mountain bikes with knobbly tyres. The face masks in particular are a sight to see. Though I do see the point and am going to buy myself one while I am here.
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So let’s get the story of the soju out of the way. The green bottle in the image above is not lemonade. While you can’t tell from the innocuous bottle, it is 20% alcohol. I made the mistake of sitting down with some gentlemen when I bought a bottle. I thought it strange that they would pour my drink into a bowl and then I saw that the drink was white not clear and that the label said something like http://www.koreawine.co.kr but it was too late to back and I thought it was probably just beer. Well, can I just say that when all you’ve had in the previous 30 hours is 3 hours broken airplane sleep, a small serve of rice with chicken on the plane and a couple of donuts, and the sun is beating down on a hot day then soju goes straight to your head. I drank the bowl still thinking I was drinking about 300ml of beer. The cheerful feeling I had as I rode along after that and the headache I had by day’s end said otherwise. It’s a memory I will always cherish as my introduction to Korea.
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The river here is vast and muddy. I still don’t know why I turned away from it to follow a small creek for 5km in the wrong direction given the size of the Han.
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In this picture I am pointing at where I was. I should have been on the big blue Han. Not wanting to exascerbate my sense of being lost I opted to backtrack rather than cut across the busy streets.
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Back out on the Han I saw first hand what I have read in others’ accounts of Korea: the locals’ daytime camping escapades. It looks like a camp ground but the tents were starting to be packed away as I rode past. People were fully set up with meals and cookers and fishing rods. And they weren’t just singles; all were socialising in groups. In fact, that is probably my initial impression of Korean people: that they are incredibly social. Everytime I’d stop to take a photo someone would ride or walk over offering to take one of me and lots of people tried to ask me questions but I can’t yet make myself understood … I’ll need another couple of days for that.
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While following the Han was easy; finding my hostel wasn’t. I found Itaewon with the help of my map and some triangulation to work out where I was on said map. But I didn’t have a street name for my hostel (they don’t use street names in Seoul), only directions. Fortunately, a young lady and her male companion helped me out by using the GPS on their phone. I doubt I would have found the place otherwise in my fatigued state. The hostel (G. Guesthouse in Itaewon) is amazing. It’s quiet, comfortable, the dorms are spacious and I am allowed my bike in the room, Shrek the guy who runs it is a true hotelier, there’s free wifi, a free laundry with detergent, soap and shampoo in the showers, and free breakfast. All for the princely sum of $AU16 a night. I’ll be here for 1 week to allow myself time to get a feel for Korea and to see the many sights in and around Seoul. It will also give me a good chance to do some work and start my next university assignments.
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Tonight, despite my fatigue, I went out to explore the streets of Itaewon. This is an expat area so you can get any sort of cuisine you desire. I settled for a Korean dumpling house and ordered mussel soup with dumplings. At 7,000KRW it was good value and tasty.

The map shows the train lines not my route. I can’t seem to get it to show my route. But it gives you an idea of where I went today.