Seoul didn’t leave a great first impression on me. I was still sick on our first day there, so I just spent the day reading and sleeping in our hostel. When we finally did emerge, we found a huge, confusing city. (And one of the most densely populated cities in the world.) The subway goes everywhere, but it’s not the easiest to use (especially when compared to Hong Kong’s beautiful transportation system). We did make it to Gyeongbok-gung, a palace that was originally built in the 1500′s, but destroyed by the Japanese and later rebuilt in the 1800′s. Compared to the other palaces and temples we’ve seen on this trip, I thought it was unimpressive and a little boring.
But after the first day, we started to have a great time in Seoul. We found lots of yummy snacks in Insadong. Then we went up to the North Seoul Tower to see the compulsory “view from the top.” We visited a war monument park that had many planes and tanks on display. At night we enjoyed the bars and restaurants in Hongdae.
One of the highlights was our day touring the DMZ. The war never officially ended and things are still pretty tense around the border. I didn’t know this, but apparently there’s a skirmish with North Korea practically every year. Our tour began at the Third Tunnel, where North Korea was trying to dig into South Korea to launch a surprise attack on Seoul. It reminded me of the Vinh Moc tunnels of Vietnam, except this one was much larger. After that we went to the Dora Observatory that looks out on the North, but it was foggy and we didn’t see much. Then we visited the closest train station to the North. The track goes all the way to Pyongyang, but the trains stop at Dora Station. It’s crazy to think that if trains could go through North Korea, you could go all the way from London to Seoul by train.
Finally we went to the Joint Security Area, or JSA, where things really got intense. Before we entered, we had to sign waivers saying that we were entering a hostile territory and that neither the military nor USO would be held responsible if we were injured in an attack. Then our “security officer,” an American soldier, gave us a military-style briefing about the DMZ and JSA. We were given very strict rules, like we couldn’t take off our jackets or interact with the North Korean guards in any way (including making eye contact with them). As we rode “up north” in a special military bus, our security officer explained the defense systems we were passing, including antitank devices and landmines. At the border we had to walk in single file lines straight from the bus and into the meeting room. The meeting room is right on the border, so we technically entered North Korea when we were on the other side of the table.
South Korean soldiers guarded us the entire time. The guards at the JSA are the best of the best and being selected is a very high honor. They have to be fluent in two languages, pass certain tests, and be experts in two forms of martial arts. While they guard the area, they stand in a modified Taekwondo stance with sunglasses on, so they don’t show any emotion towards the North and also so they don’t get into staring contests with the North Korean guards. You definitely don’t want to mess with these guys. We only saw one North Korean guard. He was standing outside of their building, watching us with binoculars.
Our other highlight was going to a baseball game. It was by far the most entertaining baseball game I’ve ever been to! We were in the main cheering section, and they do different chants and cheers the entire time the home team is up to bat. The rules are the same as at home. ??There are a lot more fielding errors here and stolen bases, though, and we think the relief pitchers were terrible, because the Twins (the home team) were winning like 6 to 0 going into the 8th, but ended up losing. ??And we were on the kiss cam! ??Right when they started doing the kiss cam I kind of figured they would show us, because of course we were the only westerners in the entire section, so we stuck out like a sore thumb. ??Sure enough, the camera goes to us, and it was kind of stupid, I was trying to be funny and make a silly face like, “You want me to kiss him?!”, but Brad was trying to stand up for this big, romantic kiss, and we ended up just awkwardly meeting in the middle. ??So much for our moment of fame in Korea! ??But then the guy sitting next to me told me to go down to the cheerleaders to get our gift. ??They gave us a gift card, but we didn’t know what it was until we got home and showed it to the owner of our hostel. ??Apparently it’s a gift card for $50, so we actually made money at the game!
We did a few other things in Seoul, but nothing as exciting as the DMZ or the ballgame. You can look at pictures of those other things here. All in all, I can’t believe how much fun we had in Seoul! There’s still more to see and I wasn’t ready to leave, but, like always, we have to move on to the next place.