Sunday, December 5, 2010

Weekend Wrap-up - (Korea) Days 4 & 5

Gyeongbokgung Palace during our USO field trip

My First Weekend in Korea

It's Saturday and I slept in. When I decided to wake up, I made my way to Starbucks with my laptop and made use of the free WiFi on base. While enjoying my coffee I was able to get ahold of my wife and make a Skype call. This was the first time I was able to actually talk to my wife which was very cool. There were a few hiccups, but all in all it worked out very well. I was able to talk to her for a while and then I took off to the movie theatre. I ran into a guy here that was in my platoon from basic and we headed out to check out the theatre. The movie theatre here is free for active duty…how cool is that! We watched "The Town" with Ben Affleck. Right as we walked in some music started playing and everyone stood up. We were wondering what the heck was going on, then quickly realized they were playing the South Korean national anthem, then they played the U.S. national anthem. Back to the movie…it was a fun show to watch…lots of bank robbing action. We enjoyed it and then with our stomachs growling, we looked on the map of the base for the nearest DFAC. The only one we could find was about as far away from the movie theatre as you can get. We decided to swing by the Pizza Hut on the way back to the barracks instead. The rest of the day consisted of watching a show on my laptop and then a movie on my laptop (Prince of Persia). A pretty laid back easy going day. I was thinking about taking a shower, but I don't think the army paid the heating bill. During this last week we had nice hot showers, but now there is no hot water at all. It really sucks. We also have no heat in our room, so at about 1 or 2 in the morning it gets pretty cold. There is a sign on the heater in our room that says "when lever is down heat is on, when lever is up heat is off". It doesn't matter if it's up or down, nothing comes out.

Sunday morning I woke a little earlier than planned. I had my alarm set for 7:00 AM sharp, but to my surprise at 6:40 I hear an alarm going off…but it's not mine…and it's not stopping. One of our roommates set his alarm, but left for a morning run and his alarm was just going off in his locker. No worries though because I was ready to get up anyway. After I got ready I took off to the Starbucks across the street for a coffee and a bagel. Then I made a quick Skype call to my wife. It's always nice when I can hear my wife. I then took off to the meeting place where we were all supposed to be at 8:40. At 9:00 a guy came out and asked if we were all here for the tour. Ummmm yes. So we followed him out of the gate and boarded a bus.

I was now officially on the USO city of Seoul field trip. Our tour guide was a Korean lady who had a difficult name, so she said to call her Sunny…"you know like a sunny day". The first place we took off to was a stream in the middle of Seoul. I guess the stream had been covered over in the past and in recent history the pavement was removed and the stream has been restored with a walkway on each side. I believe the stream was called Cheonggye or something like that. It's in the middle of a city street and is quite nice.

We then walked to Gyeongbokgung Palace. This place was pretty neat. We arrived just before the changing of the guards, so we were able see the entire ceremony. Our tour guide then walked us through all the parts of the palace such as the throne, the entertainment hall, the sleeping quarters of the king and queen and more. It was pretty interesting seeing everything, walking through a place that so many years ago was the home of a king. We then visited a folk museum before heading out.

After we all boarded the bus and took off the tour guide realized that we were missing one person. The bus actually did a u-turn in the street. There wasn't quite enough room to do the u-turn so the bus had to back up and go forward a few times before it was able to make it. All the time cars are passing by…not something I think you would see in the U.S. I'm not sure why we just didn't go around the block. We arrived back at the palace and the tour guide and a sergeant got off and started looking for the missing guy. After about ten minutes they came back with him. Then we all got to hear about the importance of being back at the meeting place at the correct time. (um…we all were, it was just the guy who they went and found that should have been getting this lecture).

We then went to another museum and then headed out to a Korean ginseng company to finish the tour. The ginseng company let us try some ginseng tea, ginseng candy, and about every other ginseng product you can imagine. I tried everything they had out to sample. They even had ginseng wine I would have liked to try, but unfortunately there were no samples of that. Some folks even bought ginseng cigarettes.

After that we were brought back to the base and dropped off. My biggest surprise...there are a lot of Starbucks coffee shops in Seoul. Not only that, but there are a lot of coffee shops in general. Not as many as I’m used to in Seattle, but still very respectable!

I took off back to the barracks to grab my laptop and head off to the food court. I got a haircut with a head massage (I think I can get used to that). Then it was time for lunch/dinner in the food court with free WiFi and a little Skyping with my wife.

The King's Throne at Gyeongbokgung Palace

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