About a week or two ago my wife had a conference up in Seoul. I was lucky enough to have the day off due to the kids being on a school trip, so after I woke up and had breakfast I took the three and a half hour bus ride up to Seoul to have a Seoul fantastic time.
My trip first brought me to Gang nam. Technically I could be called a Taekwondo master because I hold a fourth degree black belt in the art. Strangely after twelve to thirteen years of practicing Taekwondo I somewhat gave it up after arriving in it's birthplace of Korea. The Taekwondo world headquarters, called the Kukiwon, is in Gang nam. Also strangely, after having practiced Taekwondo for twelve to thirteen years and then living in Korea for four, I had never been to the world taekwondo headquarters. So I had a few hours to kill before my wife got out of her seminar and I took a side trip up to the Kukiwon.
Back in America when I was practicing Taekwondo under the tutelage of Grand Master Chung, I had the text book that he had written as a guidance. Throughout the text one can see pictures of Grand Master Chung performing heroic feats such as hanging buckets of water from his skin, getting driven over by a car, and squatting on broken glass while holding a dumb bell with 200 pounds of weight in his mouth. There is also a picture of the Kukiwon. To an impressionable teenager, one can only imagine the mythic qualities that the Kukiwon must have over people.
However when I got there, I found that the place was just an ornately positioned gymnasium at the top of a hill. There were some offices too. There was also a small museum that was locked. The staff was polite and seemed a little surprise that I could speak enough Korean to gain entrance to the museum. The museum reminded me a bit of a martial arts school back in America. It had a lot of Olympic posters and there were a lot of trophies. The museum seemed to tell the story of Taekwondo's journey to becoming an Olympic sport.
I can't exactly say that I was disappointed or surprised by how underwhelming the place was, so I simply tried to make haste to the subway before the rain started. Luckily I found a wonderful little store called "Daiso," where I picked up a tiny umbrella for 3000 won. My wife would later chuckle at the spectacle of me carrying a tiny umbrella that had a dinosaur on top of it. I was to later learn that the thing was for children. Oh well, no harm no foul I guess. I must have looked like a fool, strolling around a posh place like Gang-nam with a toddler's umbrella.
After all of that the day seemed to pick up for me luck-wise. While on the subway, I resolved to simply take the initiative and get a hotel room. This would cut out a lot of vacillating and dithering between me and my wife as to where to stay, or if we should even stay in Seoul. I checked with the folks at the Sejong Hotel. They quoted me a price that seemed a bit high, so I checked a few other places to see that there were no vacancies anywhere else, and I went back to the Sejong. Before my wife could get angry about the price, we went up to the room, saw that it was okay, and we found a wine bottle with a card welcoming a Mr. Nanao Fujimura (I can't remember his real name) home.
It turned out that the hotel staff made a mistake, and so they just gave us the bottle of wine!
The events of the evening unfolded rather nicely.
-Donuts and coffee at Mr. Donut.
- Dinner at some famous ramen shop (Eh, ramen was okay, it's always just okay, there is a pretty nice spicy ramen place that I like down in Seomyun in Busan though)
On this point I would like to say a few things. I try not to buy Chinese made garments. Not necessarily because of sweatshops. I'm sure that if you even go to the American Apparel* factory in L.A., you are going to find that stitching together clothes is a pretty shitty job whichever way you look at it. I simply try not to buy anything made in China because I want to support manufacturing in countries that aren't China. That said, I found some pretty good deals on Korean made jeans and shirts. First there was the Buckaroo-TBJ-Andew outlet shop across the street from Woori bank. (This is on the main street of Myung-dong where the first Mr. Donut is. I bought a pair of jeans for 29,000 won. These jeans were Korean made. This was an amazing price for Korea where a pair of Chinese made Levis can fetch as much as 300,000 won.
The jeans I bought were supposedly out of season, that's why they were on clearance, no matter they are pretty cool jeans.
We strolled around a bit after that and found the fabled H and T. This shop made the headlines of a lot of the Korea blogs when it first opened. I didn't find the place to be at all remarkable, but the building that it was in - Noon square, or neon square - had some pretty interesting treasures. On the fifth floor of Noon square there are a few boutique shops that feature the work of local designers. One novelty shop has women's bags and purses made from the seat belts of cars. A jeans shop is up there too, some men's places, one place that sells design t-shirts. If you are in Myung-Dong in Seoul, I recommend skipping H and T, and heading up to the fifth floor. For lunch or dinner go to the sixth floor of Noon-square. I had a burger at, "The Smokey Saloon," the next day. Nice. There is also a Chinese restaurant up there that is owned by Jackie Chan.
After we left the Noon Square building, we headed to a place called New York Hotdog and Coffee.
This place featured something called a "bulgogi hotdog." I had one of those things, it was great, definitely recommend it.
Sometimes it is nice to get up to Seoul. I really wouldn't like to live there but I enjoy visiting it. And that is my last trip to Seoul.