Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Night Lights (Weekend pt. 2)

The number of Fulbrighters hanging out in Seoul quickly swelled as the evening wore on. So did my sinuses.
Busy, crowded streets of Hongdae (홍대) at night. I spy a Korean hipster!
The group from the Han River Park made a pit stop by the Fulbright Building in Mapo-gu to pick up things and hang out with Jake and Leslie for a bit before heading to Hongdae (홍대). Hongdae is hoppin', easily the most interesting neighborhood I've seen in Korea so far. It's young, hip, and really lively at night. We checked into our hostel, the Pencil Guesthouse, and then walked to the busier part of the neighborhood, taking in all the sights. Just along the short walk from the Hongik University metro station to the restaurant, we saw: tons of foreigners, tons of hipsters, tiny shops selling everything imaginable, a silent mp3 dance party, street performances, and at least one guy in drag.
A silent mp3 dance party on the streets in Hongdae. Everyone had wireless headphones and was dancing to music, but no one watching could hear anything! And they all had balloons, too. Yay, balloons!

The whole group in front of the restaurant. From left to
right: Amy and David (friends of friends), Kristen,
Stephanie, Cecile, Julia, Ammy, Jessica, Alanna, Ben,
and Taxi. A group of twelve for an unplanned dinner is
 unwieldy, but we had a blast!
Our group was twelve strong at 연탄 불고기 (Yeontan Bulgogi), which was a barbecue place suggested by Jessica. Two different sets of her Korean friends had taken her to eat there, so we figured it'd work for us. And although the menu was simple (nothing but pork barbecue, banchan, or side dishes, and steamed egg), it was delicious. And there was a lot of food. And it was really, really cheap. Like, 5,000-won-(less than $5)-per-person-for-a-full-meal-cheap. I highly recommend this place.
Yayyy, Korean barbecue! (I was worried about Cecile, who doesn't eat pork, because there was essentially nothing else on the menu... But the rest of us ate like kings!)
Unfortunately, by the end of the meal, my nose was running like a leaky faucet. The wonderful afternoon spent outside in Nature had its consequences in the form of severe allergies. I probably looked like crap, but I just had to power through, because we had one more stop before the day was over: Namsan Tower!

Namsan Tower is a big tower smack dab in the middle of the city. It's also called N Seoul Tower, and it's easily visible from most parts of town, helped in part because it's on the top of a hill (Namsan). Our group took the metro and a taxi to get to the bottom of the hiking trail, which was beautifully lit for the evening. Because the cable car line was fairly long, and because we're adventurous Fulbrighters, we decided to hike the whole way up. It took about twenty minutes, not including several pauses along the way to take in the gorgeous views of the city we were being offered at every turn. Also, we played Contact on the way up and it soothed my troubled, word game-deprived soul.
And then we arrived at the tower and bought tickets (9,000 won) to take the elevator to the observation deck. Yes, the view was fantastic. Breathtaking, even. I've seen many cities from the tops of many towers and tall buildings, but Seoul was a new high. This city is beyond huge. It's staggering just how far the lights go in every direction. At the observation deck, which was actually fairly small, I just kept walking around and around, marveling at how impossibly big Seoul is. I took lots of photos...
A breathtaking (and slightly smudgy) view of Seoul's nightscape from the observation deck of Namsan Tower.
It was nearly midnight, and we were all falling asleep at the top, when we decided to call it a night. After some of us got ice cream and checked out the "love padlocks" on the terrace by the foot of the tower, which I personally found kind of boring, we took two taxis (an expensive black one and a cheaper white one) back to Hongdae, which at 1am was still bustling and clogged with pedestrian traffic. We finally arrived at the hostel at 1am, and I conked out almost immediately.
Thousands of couples have locked their love onto the walls of a terrace at Namsan Tower. Stephanie's contemplating 왜 남자 친구가 아직 그녀에게 자물쇠를 안 사다줬어요!
'Twas a good day. Despite the allergies, which made me feel gross and miserable and probably resulted in me being a bossypants (because when your face is on fire and you've been blowing your nose with alcohol sanitizing wipes because so many Korean restaurants don't have napkins, the last thing you want to do is stand around waiting for twelve people to decide where to go and when...), I had a wonderful time. And I was pleasantly surprised at us Fulbrighters' efficacy when it came to splitting the dinner bill, paying for our hostel, meeting up and splitting up, and so on. Everything just went more smoothly than I'd imagined it to be. You see, when you travel, it's not just the great food and the cool sights that count; transportation (must be comfortable), monetary transactions (must be efficient), and all plans going without a hitch can make -- or break -- a vacation.

In the next post: whitewater rafting and bungee jumping in Cherwon!

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