Seoul has a tower. Seoul Tower, or Namsan Tower, is a 238m-high building, built in 1980, which marks the highest point of Seoul. Seoul also has a cable car that goes up to the tower. So, I guess it comes as no surprise that on my second day in Seoul, I decided to explore the Seoulful hill, officially named Namsan Mountain (243m, I hesitate to call it a mountain) with the famous Seoul tower perched upon it.
As a sense of directionful whizz, it took me no time at all to figure out the easiest route to the tower, and I got off at the right metro stop and found myself directly in front of the cable car taking me to the tower.
Well, if we’re living in Topsy-Turvy land, that is.
To clarify: I got lost.
The scenic route was nice, though I was getting tired of all the signposts with inexplicable “squiggles that call themselves a language.” (As recorded in my travel journal. I appreciate all languages, don’t get me wrong. But it was getting, well, tiring, for my little brain of no-Korean.)
Well, I eventually found the cable car. But guess what? I surprised even myself – I walked up to the cable car ticket lady but instead of asking for a ticket found myself asking: “Can you walk up? Where?”
So no thanks cable car, yes please walk!
But the walk, indeed, was the best bit of the tower experience. The steps were numerous and difficult to find due to scaffolding and renovations, but once found, they were good fun and the views were STUNNING.
And, thanks to the existence of cable cars, there were not too many people around, providing for undisturbed scenery of hazy Seoul in the semi-early morning. (Not too early, since I’d
made the silly mistake of/had the exciting experience of going on the Seoul Pub Crawl the previous night… Well, the hazelnut beer was nice.)
The tower itself was honestly a bit of an anti-climax for me, which can be seen from my lack of pictures. Firstly, due to the emptiness of the ascent up, I had naively figured that there wouldn’t be many people around. I was wrong. The top of the hill was Tourist Haven, with American burger restaurants, a revolving Jupiter-high-priced ‘Western-style’ French restaurant and an Italian pizzeria. I also figured that I wouldn’t experience much more by going up the tower, especially since one had to pay… Therefore I skipped going up it.
The ‘slogan’ of the Tower is “Love in Action”. Maybe I wasn’t the intended target market.
The best part of the top of Namsan Mountain was the martial art dancey performance I had the good luck of chancing upon. The dudes had astounding moves and epic outfits and accessories, and they were accompanied by (what I presume to have been) traditional Korean music.
This was followed by a heart-breaking moment of the post-performance photo-sesh – the dudes were posing for pictures, and I found the handsomest one and waited around patiently for something vaguely like “My Turn”. I even found a friendly Thai girl who promised to hold on to my camera to be ready to take the picture for me. “My Turn” (I dunno why I put that in speech marks, though, since there was no question about it) was disregarded by a few groups of tourists, who I patiently forgave for their selfish sins like a well-brought up human being would, though deep down I was slightly frustrated by their lack of respect for My Turn. And after an especially annoying group of them, my handsome guard turned round and walked off. His time for posing with inane tourists had clearly expired. Enough pics, just not one with me. </3
I walked down the hill feeling miserable and taking sad selfies of myself, which was so much fun that I ended up cheering myself up rather quickly. But, argh, tourists.
Near the tower there was this famous market, Myeong-dong, which I decided to check out after making my way down the steps back to the road. Turn right, follow the road, right again, and voilà. I admit I had a moment of wondering if I’d got lost again, but luckily I eventually found the market more or less where it was supposed to be. Huzzah, maybe there is a tiny sense of direction hiding within me…
That is, until I realised I had indeed found a market, but not the market. This market was called Namdaemun market and it was literally the complete opposite direction to Myeong-dong. I’d nearly walked off the map, in fact.
Ah well. I wasn’t too disappointed. I ate my way through the market, stopping by also to buy over-priced K-pop stickers and to try on beautiful, cheap coats in a huge pile, where the superfriendly salesman had no mirror, but decided to take a picture of me on his phone so I could see what I looked like – and made sure I was aware of and witnessed him deleting the photo, of course, bless him. (The coat was BEAUTIFUL but slightly too Korean-sized for me… So I left empty-handed and no warmer than I’d arrived 🙁 )
I had a semi-delicious steamed pork bun, but my most curious culinary experience was something I described creatively in my travel journal as “thingies wrapped in stuff, on a stick” (but I did draw a picture to go with that accurate description).
There were five “thingies”, and each had a different filling – crab, shrimp, chili, sausage and cheese. They were exotic, but slightly bland – I did regret not noticing the sauce until after I’d devoured most of them.
I had other thingies on a stick too. After subtly observing in modest disbelief the locals do it, I followed suit: after finishing the thingies, I scooped myself a cup of oily water that the thingies were cooking in and drank it. Taste bud-bogglewise not the most significant, but new experiencewise definitely a winner.
It was getting pretty cold, and I stopped in various shops pretending to be interested in their produce purely to enjoy the heating for a short while. Then I wandered the ever-coldening streets of the increasingly obscure Seoul-neighbourhoods, feeling tired, cold, lonely and sorry for myself and resigning to the fact that the only place I will ever be warm in in Korea is my hostel with that heated floor…
I’d given up looking for an atmospheric café ages back. They were all closed, too American chain-vibey, too intimidatingly local, or, mostly, too non-existent. I started looking for the metro. But, you can imagine my JOY when, down one of these dark, empty, cold back streets I stumbled across Gong Cha.
I couldn’t think of anything more perfect. Gong Cha is this milk tea place you can also find in Vietnam – so I knew it to be good. It was relatively atmospheric, empty, with a friendly girl behind the counter and, above all, WARM. So I got myself a hot green milk tea and sat down for the next few hours to cut, glue and write in my travel journal.
I even got some social interaction from my momentary neighbours – a Canadian couple being showed around by a young Korean man. Hooray, I still have social interaction capabilities.
So, after a long, tiring, emotional, beautiful, fun, frustrating, freezing, warm, lonely, sociable, intriguing, novel, bizarre, scrumptious day, I returned to the hostel happy and feeling accomplished.
And quite happy to be returning to sweltering Vietnam in a few days time.