There is a distinct lack of individualism in this society and never has this been more prevalent than on Sports Day this Friday. Although this event was a fun day for all of the children everything felt very structured which certainly detracted from the children’s enjoyment of their sports day. You could tell when one student was called up to salute the principle, the child (one of my 5th grade students) was only doing this because he had too. The whole event was full of strange traditional formalities, national anthems and gift offering. It’s harmless enough but kids are getting fed patriotism and tradition from a very early age here, they are getting educated to pass tests from the early hours until late in the evening, and I’m just worried there’s no time (even on sports day) for them to kick back, be themselves and have fun. I sincerely hope that my English classes give them time to do this, at least that’s the mission statement.
During lunch we went for dinner in a restaurant opposite my school, the food was good and this time soju wasn’t forced upon me. However, soju was still there, and I thought it was strange that teachers were taking a break from sports day to go and have a few shots of liquor before heading back. It’s certainly a different way of life here, right?
We got let out of school early on Sports Day, which was nice. Although I was headed to Seoul to meet Natalie and my bus wasn't until 5:20. I spent the hour in-between school and the bus playing angry birds on my phone. It passes the time, ok? The bus arrived and on I got. Buses are very comfortable here, they are basically coaches, every last one of them. From the local bus to the express intercity buses. The ride was good although there was an accident just outside of Seoul that held me up by about an hour. I got into East Seoul station at 8:15 and was due to meet Natalie at the airport at 9:00. This was not going to happen, and I was frustrated as I had no way of contacting her. I hopped onto the tube, crossed my fingers and hoped I would get there as soon as possible. They have only just built the Airport Express that goes from Seoul Station to the airport, but boy is it slow, not because its a slow train, but mainly because it’s such a long way to Incheon Airport. I got to the Airport at 9:30 and 10 minutes later found Natalie waiting where we had planned to meet. Perfect.
We jumped in a taxi as there was no way I wanted to go on that train again. Natalie had a pretty good flight, although the Korean food she had on the plane was apparently not quite up to scratch. No surprises. Taxi drivers here don’t speak English, I don’t know why. You’d think that they would come into contact with enough English people to at least know some basic phrases. They don’t. So directing them can be tough if you don’t speak any Korean either. We told him to drop us near the station which was close to our hotel and figured we could walk it from there. He dropped us to the wrong station. Oh the joys. We tried to work out where we were for ourselves but ended up going into a coffee shop. Luckily Koreans who work in coffee shops have pretty good English so we were able to ask her where our hotel was, she understood, put us in a taxi and sent us on our way and we finally arrived to the hotel at about 11:30.
The next day after a wonderful waffle in the local Italian gelato shop, we got the tube to Changdeokgung palace. This is apparently Seoul's most beautiful palace set amongst a ‘secret garden’ (not all that secret). It is truly magnificent, grand towering Asian palaces soar up through the trees and winding walkways cut their way through shrubs, flowers and ponds. We spent about three hours here walking around and looking at the sights. It was incredibly hot and humid in Seoul, so sooner or later we got tired enough to want to go to an air conditioned restaurant and have some food. We went to a sushi and seafood buffet restaurant and it was amazing. All you can eat sushi for a great price and enough selection of everything else (fruits, desserts, rice, noodles, traditional Korean food) to fill you up. Full we were. Off we went. Back to the hotel to catch up on some sleep and freshen up for the night. That evening we went up N Seoul Tower. It was a lot busier than the last time I went and by the time we got to the top all the restaurants had pretty much stopped serving. Luckily we had a great lunch and didn’t fancy much so we got some fries and eventually made it up the tower. I’ve written about the view from up there before so I won’t bore you with the details. It was wonderful. We got a taxi home and went to bed.
The next day we wanted to find this fish market that we had read about and seen on a TV show. We looked it up and found that the market we were looking for was a few tube stops away from where we were staying. We looked around here for quite a while, but were both feeling a little worse for wear so didn’t end up buying anything. I have never seen as much seafood as this all in one place, you name it, they had it (salmon, sea urchins, crayfish, catfish, shark, stingray, prawns, cockles, massive fish, tiny fish, dead fish, alive fish, crabs, lobsters) the works, all swimming or lying in tanks and on tables across a warehouse as big as an aircraft hanger. It was quite a spectacle.
After this we went to the Hyundai Department Store to make ourselves feel poor and then headed back to Sachang-ri. The bus ride was great, we got back settled in, went for dinner and went to bed. A successful weekend in Seoul. We can only hope that Natalie felt the same.
PS – She did.
Back to work now and my classes have gone well so far, although the first grade were messing about this morning. It’s Monday morning. What, do you like Monday mornings? Two more classes to go and then I’m spending the next two days in YangYang for some teacher training. It’s all go.
Asta La Vista, baby.