May 28, 2009

Randomness of Asia

I cannot believe it has been an entire year since my Contiki trip across Europe. Not only was it one of the best months of my life, but I made some friends that I know I will keep in touch with for my entire life. I was so fortunate to be able to spend some time with two of my tourmates this past weekend. We enjoyed good food, saw a few of the sights of Seoul, and soaked up the atmosphere of some really chill bars.

Our main sightseeing adventure was to the top of N'Seoul Tower on Namsan Mountain. After taking the bus up the mountain, we approached the tower to find a legitimately Mexican mariachi band playing music to numerous onlookers. I have no clue why there was Spanish music being played, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. I did, at least. Still, it never ceases to amaze me how random Korea is. We made our way to the ticket booth and per request from Hyunji, we purchased the 12,000 won combo package tickets to the Tower and the teddy bear museum. Yes, the teddy bear museum. Once again, random.

Real Mexicans playing real Mexican music... in Korea!

On Namsan Mountain outside the N'Seoul Tower.

The museum was more of an exhibition of sorts using mechanically controlled teddy bears to paint a picture of the history of Seoul, both past and present. I had my doubts when buying the tickets, but it turned out to be really cute and bettered my understanding of Korean history. Finally, we took the elevator to the top observation deck of the 777-foot tower. The sun was just beginning to go down and the view was decent, despite the haziness. As darkness set in and the city lights turned on, the mediocre view turned into a stunning one well worth the wait. Unfortunately, my pictures don't do the scenery justice. We grabbed some slightly overpriced dinner in the tower, and bundled up in the restaurant-provided blankets to enjoy a spectacle of lights unlike any other. The ride down the mountain in the cable car was pretty cool, too.

Traditional Korean ceremony at one of the palaces, acted out by mechanical teddy bears.

My crap picture of a really fantastic view.

N'Seoul Tower at nighttime.

We stumbled upon a cafe in Meyongdong that served really great tea and free 'cheesecake' which tasted nothing like cheesecake, but it was close enough for me. We then played quite a few rounds of hwa-tu (or "Go-Stop"), a very popular Korean card game. It took me a day to learn the proper strategy and how to play my cards right, but I finally figured it out and managed to win our last game. I can now impress my Korean friends with my new found Go-Stop skills.

We caught the last subway to Suyu, and managed to hail a taxi. It made me feel good to be able to use directional words in Korean to get us to our final destination. I'm learning, little by little. Overall, it was a nice weekend of seeing familiar faces and experiencing even more that Korea has to offer.

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