Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Stopover in Seoul

On the morning of the 12th, all of us who had enjoyed the Ice Fishing Festival came back down from the winter wonderland and returned to Seoul. We played a lot of Contact on the subway.

In the capital, we met up with Jonathan and Liam, two fellow ETAs. It was Jonathan's birthday, and he was going to celebrate by watching a Korean basketball game. I didn't go (but if you want an idea of what that was like, you can read Maggie's blog or Ammy's blog), having planned instead to visit the Yongsan Electronics Market to buy a replacement lens cap. I had lost mine at the festival when I gave my camera to a kind stranger to take photos of me going nuts in a pool of freezing water. He gave the camera back, of course, but both of us forgot about the lens cap; doubtless it is still in his pocket.

A heaven of cameras at I'Park Mall. Photo from this Korea blog.
Anyway, I went with Adam and Katelyn to Yongsan, and upon entering the market (I'Park Mall), I was flabbergasted by the sight before me. There must have been thousands of cameras of all different kinds, and tons of sellers who immediately started calling out to me to try out whatever they had. I'd done my research, though, I knew that these guys on the first floor were the ones most likely to try to rip off customers, especially foreigners. To check, I asked the first merchant I saw how much it would be for a lens cap. He punched some numbers into a calculator and showed me 23,000₩ ($21.50). Heck no! I quickly left that area of the market, even though it was beautiful to behold... and we found a different market.

There are actually several different markets (more like department stores) in the neighborhood, and I decided to try Electronics Land (전자렌드). Luckily, I found my lens cap without too much trouble there. I was looking for anything below ten bucks, and a guy working a videography shop dug in some drawers and found a Canon lens of the right size for me, for 10,000₩ ($9.50). I took his offer.

Later, I saw another camera merchant downstairs and wondered if I'd be able to bargain down. I tried using Korean with limited and awkward success. (Koreal life, people!) So, when this second merchant offered 10,000₩, I said that it was too expensive and asked for 8,000. He didn't miss a beat and lowered the price. I was caught by surprise, because I'd already bought my other lens cap, and obviously I had to find a way out of buying this one, too. So, I said that that was still too expensive and said that I could find it elsewhere for 5,000₩. Then the merchant snapped at me and said that I should just order it online if I wanted it that cheap. (When I checked later, Amazon does indeed have my lens cap for cheaper. Whatever, though!)

At Baskin Robbins
Adam and Katelyn and I went to get ice cream at Baskin Robbins, partly to celebrate and partly because, well, I think that if you don't go to the Yongsan Electronics Market specifically to get a certain item (having done price comparison research beforehand), then it's really too overwhelming for simply browsing. So we weren't interested in looking for anything else. Not even all of the bootleg DVDs being sold on street corners!

The next part of our adventure took place in the mall connected to the Yongsan Train Terminal. With about an hour to kill before Katelyn's train back to Iksan, we decided to do a spontaneous photo scavenger hunt with our handy smart phones. Items to be photographed included: PSY, Engrish, other foreigners, the Korean flag, and groups of people standing in a circle but all on their phones. It was such a perfect time-killer.

At Ho (好) Bar in Hongdae. Photo courtesy Maggie.
Then, Adam and I traveled to Itaewon, Seoul's international neighborhood, to meet up with the others for dinner. For Jonathan's birthday, he wanted to go to a Nigerian restaurant called Mama Africa (he is of Nigerian descent). When we arrived, we discovered that the owner of the restaurant had the same first and last name as Jonathan. It was pretty hilarious. For dinner, I had jollof rice, which was my first taste of Nigerian food.

After dinner, we hung out in the hostel for a bit before going out to some bars in Hongdae. I'm not much of a bar person myself (too much noise and smoke), but I still had a good time with Jonathan, Liam, Maggie, and Ammy. One of the bars we went to had some pool tables, and it was fun! Even though I suck at pool. Like, I'm really, really bad. But that is unimportant when you're having fun with friends, right?

Not only was this a fantastic omelet, they had COLORING PLACEMATS!
The next morning, Ammy and I went to Jubilee Church, a church with English services that I hadn't been to since last summer. I enjoyed the service a lot, mostly because it closely resembled the church services that I was accustomed to growing up and in college. It's been so long since I've sung worship songs with such gusto.

After the service, we headed back to Itaewon for lunch with the rest of them at Suji's. Suji's is an American restaurant with several locations in Asia, and it's very popular with Fulbrighters as the place to get American "diner food" while in Seoul. This was my first time going, and it was well worth the 45-minute wait.

The food was good, as was the birthday cake that Ammy and I got for Jonathan, and the five of us had a great time enjoying a slow afternoon with delicious food and wonderful company. Also, the placemats were colorable and we got crayons. Simply sublime. I tell you.
Birthday boy Jonathan (left) and Liam (right) at Suji's.
I wished that that afternoon could have stretched on longer (and especially that the food could have magically reappeared to be eaten again...), but Ammy and I needed to get to Cheongju that afternoon, so we peaced out and went to the express bus terminal to begin the next part of our adventure: skiing!

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