31 August 2008

Travel: Seoul, Part 2

Seoul is a city of many different activities, from history to arts & culture to entertainment to shopping. And for each activity, there is a signature neighborhood: Gwanghwamun for the historical National Palace (called Gyeongbokgung), Insadong for arts, and Itaewon and Dongdaemun for shopping. It being a Saturday night, we thought we'd head out for one or all of these activities. And we were going to brave the Seoul Metropolitan Subway, with its twelve (12!) lines.

As we walked towards our stop in Gangnam (called Gangnam), we happened upon a bustling scene of retail shops, restaurants, and street vendors. Little did we know that it was as lively as we were going to get that night. We decided to pass the stalls selling all kinds of yummy-smelling food, although I was curious at the tent which had a picture of an adorable puppy on the outside and several young people eating inside. I know dog is on the menu at some places, but surely not so blatantly as to have a puppy's picture pasted outside?! I did not stop to find out.

We jumped on the subway (the station itself was a retail haven humming with activity). It was too late to go to the National Palace or to Seoul Tower, so we decided on Itaewon, with its outdoor street market (although we were already on our way towards Seoul Tower). Our little detour took us four stops on Line 2 (Gagnam Station) to the Jungangseon Line (Sadang Station), then another five stops to Line 6 (Samgakji Station) and then two stops to our destination (Itaewon Station). Looking back, I should just be glad Farah was still with me. Not only there, but for good. How easy a taxi would have been! (For a good view of the subway route map, go to http://www.seoulsubway.co.kr/, click on English and then on Route Map).

Well, we were here - Itaewon, famous for its outdoor shopping and great deals. Only, Itaewon is a DAY market. So, when we got to street level, we found a few vendors boarding up their carts, all the shops closed, and hardly anyone around. Didn't I mention something about not being able to get a feel for Seoul? This was a good indication.

Back to the subway! Surely, Insadong, the artsy area of Seoul, would still be hopping on a Saturday night. So, back on Line 6 at Itaewon for three stops to Line 3 (Yaksu) and five stops to our destination (Angkuk). When we finally got to the street level, we didn't see anything resembling night life. What we did see was a large group of protestors holding a candlelight vigil at a government building just across from the entrance to Insadong. Our timing could not have been better - just the week before, the government had unilaterally lifted a ban on US beef imports. This caused a major uprising in Seoul. The main point of contention was that the government's action was done without consultation with the people and in the face of clear opposition. While this was a protest against the government, that US beef policy was the catalyst made me reluctant to wade into the crowd and start asking what all the fuss was about. Especially since I was the only American-looking person in the area.

So, back to the subway. I won't detail our trip back (it was 13 stops), but I will say I was relieved to find ourselves near our hotel. The street activity that had whet our appetites was still going strong, and although we were beat, I did have to stop for chicken on a stick, a grilled fillet of chicken with a wonderful mayonnaise sauce. I won't say it was worth all we went through that night, but it was a good way to end the night. And it was my first taste of Korean food.

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