Wednesday, December 18, 2013

18 Dec 2013 0 C Home!

Airport live orchestra

Pretty and talented violist
Our flight back home consists of Mu 5042 with transit at Shanghai Mu 545. Although the flight departed from Seoul at 12.55 pm, we were there by 9.30 am to claim the meager tax refund.

It was a troublesome procedure. Here’s a recap of how to get our refund :

1 - When we make a purchase at a tax refundable shop and if the amount exceeds 30 000 won, a receipt will issued by the shop when amount that can be refunded indicated.  

2 - Fill out the particulars in the receipt.

3 - Pack the purchase items separately in case Customs demands to have them inspected.

4 – Go to the respective checkin counter for our flight and do the usual checkin. Tell the staff that we want to claim a tax refund.

5 – We will be given our boarding pass and luggage tagged. ( we have packed  our meager purchase in the  luggage to be checked in  ). The staff will weight, issue our bag tags BUT not send in the luggage to the conveyor system.

6 – Go to the Customs booth instructed by the check in staff. Show our passports and receipts ( which has all our particulars filled up ).

7 – Customs will stamp the receipts to acknowledge that they have seen the items ( which they didn’t ). They will collect our tagged checkin luggage, x-ray and send them into the system via the conveyor.

8 – Enter immigration was usual.

9 – After passing through immigration, look for the tax refund booth.

10 – Submit  the stamped receipt. A cash refund will be given as indicated on the receipt. 

Whew! It was a lot of work but the checks were there to prevent abuses in the tax system, so we have to bear with it.

To spend the remaining won, I bought a perfume ( 11000 won ) and ginseng tea ( 14000 won ). The price is fair and service was friendly. The Chinese were out for the last kill at the airport, swipping Prada bags off the shelves. It was horrifying to see their hand luggage consisting of bags and bags of airport purchase!

Cheap and good airport canteen food

One of the best katsudon at Incheon airport canteen
Flight back home from Seoul and transit at Shanghai was smooth, thankfully. Looking back, Seoul's Incheon is a nice place to set off but the same could not be said for Shanghai. It is utilitarian though toilet facilities were many and better than that in Dubai.  What Incheon lacks in sophistication compared to Changi,  it compensates in terms of price – food at its food court was reasonable and seating plentiful.

Thus ends our first holiday to South Korea. It is a land of many surprises with strong service culture. The people’s resilience can be seen in their hard work despite the cold. Self discipline and mutual respect is very evident in that seats for senior folks were never occupied despite a packed train and a elder person is always given a seat. There are no cleaners in the streets or mountains nor were thrash bins easily , yet the streets were clean despite the crowds.  Foods are not aesthetic in most cases but if we eat with our other senses, it provides the most amazing culinary experience in Asia.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

17 Dec 2013 -4 C Changdeokgung

Smaller Changdeokgung provides the insight to ancient Korean royal grandeur

Markers like these line the palace

Bridge at the entrance to the palace for good fengshui
We set off for Changdeokgung to make it in time for the 10am Chinese guided tour. This palace is listed under the UN Heritage sites and there is a cap to the number of visitors per day.

Changdeokgung  consists of the palace proper and the huge Huwon Secret Garden and entry is paid separately ( 3000 won / 5000 won respectively ). Visitors to the garden has to make prior reservations but since we had our fair share of walking the past days in the frigid cold, we gave the 90 minutes tour a miss and opted for a 50 minute tour of the palace instead.

Changdeokgung is smallish but very stately. The guide did a great job of explaining the history of most major sections of the palace but I find the tour a little too rushed.

Lunch was settled in a little cosy restaurant in one of the many alleys in Insadong. Scores of office workers were already there for the cheap and authentic cuisine.  We gave the popular restaurants a pass because all required us to sit on the floor. Our bulgolgi set with scallion pancakes was so tasty I totally ignored the extra spicy chilli dousing the meats.

Ice everywhere

Ice igloo for kids and not so old kids
Back at Hongdae, we visited the Trick Eye museum ( 15000 won x2 ).  Perhaps because it was 3 pm, the crowd was thin and we managed to take lots of photos. It was also here that both hubs and I were the most animated because we had to be part of the paintings. The museum comes with a joint entry to the Ice museum in the same premises. It was a very small place but I managed to squeeze out lots of fun sliding down the ice slide. Needless to say, it was a jolly good time.

The most reserved of all tourists turns animated here.

Hubs levitating for real!

We walked the whole of Hongdae area to experience the vibe of the youth and little shops with unique wares. At café Schneeballen, we rested our foot over iced coffee and tea. Like most cafés , the décor was unique and it was a pleasure to sit among eclectic furnishing and sipping tea and surfing the net.

Last night at Studio41st 

After a short rest at the Studio. We headed out for dinner at Guwooso. The spread was the most sparten compared to previous meals but the American beef steak was amazingly tender. Together with a soup noodle, the bill came up to just 15000 won x2 + 5000 won. The meal earned our the double thumbs up!

It was the last night in Korea and we were a bit reluctant to call it an end to our holiday. We carted back to the studio pancakes ( 2000 won ),  super sweet persimmons ( 3900 won ) and a cooked sweet potato ( 1500 won ) which also worked as my hand warmer. It was the best, last buy of the day because I got to warm my hands and eat my heat pack too !

Monday, December 16, 2013

16 Dec 2013 -8 C Nami Island

Gapyeong station - link to Nami Island

Outside Gapyeong Station

Getting ready to board the ferry
Because of 'Winter Sonata', Nami Island and the Hallyu wave would forever be mentioned in the same breath. It was the shooting location of Winter Sonata, which launched the Hallyu and Korean wave around the world.

The show was a mind-boggling and complicated story of boy meets girl who turned out to be his half sister and who eventually died. I have forgotten much of the show but the romance between the characters made the island famous.

Avenue of Gingko
Winter Sonata snowman everywhere

Daring squirrels in Nami Island

Kitchsy but that's Nami for me

More kitsch, this time with Mr G

Mascot, Mr G, likes the ambience in Nami
 The trip to Nami was one of the most convoluted and tedious, From Hongdae, we made 2 train changes, one at Wangsimni and the other at Mangu. From there, we hopped up the train to Gapyeong , then a taxi ( 3100 won ) to Gapyeong wharf. Finally, it was ferry across to Nami Island ( 8000 won ). All in all, our commute took us more than 2 hours.

Waiting for Mrs G

Igloo under construction

Mr G's snow angel
Busloads of tourists swamped the island and most spoke a foreign language. It was a mini Sentosa , with a love story as legacy. General Nami , a loyal matry, was buried there and lent his name to the place.

Caught on candid camera - boy steals a kiss.

Honeymooning couple doing the Nami photo shoots
Our 22nd anniversary. Hope the young folks can get to this stage and beyond.
The island was straight forward to navigate and kitsch was more than apt to describe the place. Despite this, the island thrive on the love story from Winter Sonata. Hubs thought it was interesting and we had some lovey dovey moments captured on film.

Traditional Korean fare in Nami Island

Dolsot bibimbap
By noon, the tourists were gone and we had most of the space to ourselves. 12.30 noon, we lunched at a Korean restaurant, bibimbap for me and Galbi Tang for hubs, He loved it while I considered mine a shadow of the bibimbap at Gogung. For 30 000 won, I was not complaining.

Red bean snow man - more Winter Sonata themes on the mainland
Before we reverse our steps back to Seoul, we had a little coffee moment at a little café near Nami wharf ( coffee and sweet potato latte ). It’s specialty was snowman pie, cutie pies filled with red bean paste ( 6 for 3000 won ). From our window seat, we saw a couple pose for photos beside the waters with soft toy mascots. Suddenly hubs did not feel so weird taking photos of Mr G , my personal mascot!

Dongdaemun at night
Back in Seoul, we revisited Dongdaemun. Our pre-dinner shopping spree started from the underground shopping alley – handphone case ( 23000 won ), wool scarf ( 15 000 won ),  knitted dress at Pyonghwa market ( 35 000 won ).

Dinner at Doota
Dinner was curry rice at Doota’s garden café ( 20 500 won ), with pretty decent sized katsudon and tempura.

Post-dinner workout was more shopping in Doota – leather wallet ( 40000 won ) , belt ( 25 000 won ), Adidas bag ( 95 000 won + tax refund 3000 won ). It was a workout for the wallet in a single day!

We reached Studio41st at 10pm, completely bushed and too tired to Skype with H. It was probably because we spent almost 5 hours commuting from Nami and shopping in a single building!

Next up, a day for the eyes at  Changdeokgung and Trick Eye Museum. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

15 Dec 2013 -6C Myeongdong

Yongnak Presbyterian Church is the biggest Presbyterian Church in the world, so they say.

Just as A and us had pre-arranged, we rendezvoused at Yongnak Presbyterian Church for our Sunday service. A and the kids were lodging at Namsan area and since they are the majority, it was only right that we meet up with them near their base.

Yongnak Pres is one of the oldest conservative churches in Seoul with 15 000 members in the congregation, whose average age is 50. Its founding members were North Korean escapees some 60 odd years ago. 

Post worship photo
We worshipped at the 10 am international English speaking service where their Tanzanian pastor delivered his last sermon on trusting God. The folks were friendly and invited us for coffee in their basement hall. The pastor prayed with us as we departed , a nice gesture we should considering doing at ORPC.

Springy noodles with lots of bite

Giant mandu the size of a little fist

Mandu place. Prepare to queue and not complain about the lack of service.

We exchanged ‘war stories’ and shopping bargains with A while J led us to the most patronized mandu shop in Myeongdong like a seasoned commander. Lunch was simple but amazingly delicious. We had cold noodles and Wang mandu. Every item costs 8000 won.

Street food in Myeongdong.

Sweet potato cakes

Spiral potatoes

We parted company after lunch where we continued our shopping. Before long, I ended up with 3 tubes of BB cream and compact ( 60 000 won ), a superlite brolly ( 15000 won ). And who should we meet but Jonas and Debbie, buying food for their parents who were down with food poisoning and resting in the hotel! What a small world!

Cheongnyecheon iced over this time.

Insadong. It gets busier than this in the afternoon.

Our Sunday tea place, Very chi-chi.


Inside Samszedong

Mr G gets bashful among thousands of love tokens.

We walked to Insadong where we stopped for afternoon tea. Pat had his coffee fix and I had a refreshing herbal tea and waffles with ice cream ( 23 000 won ). Everything about the tearoom was right – ambience, décor and service. I never knew herbal tea could be so trendy!

Downtown Seoul Palace district at mid afternoon.

Palace where the Blue House lies beyond. Sunset here is pretty cool.

In front of Gyeongbokgong entrance at sunset.

Beloved King Sejong, giver of Hanguel

At Gwanghwamun square where heroes are remembered

At a roundabout

Late afternoon, we made our way to Gwanghwamun to catch the last light of the day. There we caught King Sejong and General Shin, with the setting sun behind them.

Mushroom feast at Hongdae

Mushrooms can't get any fresher than this, from a pot

Mushroom hotpot place

6.30pm. On the way back to the Studio, we settled for a mushroom hotpot dinner ( 41 000 won ) and had the biggest plate of mushrooms for steamboat. It was the healthiest dinner in our trip.

Next up Hallyu at Nami Island.