Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 10, 2011

September 10, 2011

As previously intimated, I woke up this morning with a blinding light in the face. I went early to check out the fitness center and get a quick run in before be had to check in with DMZ tour people.

After getting back, showering, and getting dressed, we ventured out to find some breakfast before our 8am check in. The only place we could find was a "stylish buffet" which had every Western and Korean breakfast food you could possibly imagine. It was awesome. I literally ate as much s possible. Unfortunately, we paid for this luxury in spades: a $170 bill. For breakfast. At that moment Joyce decreed that we wouldn't be eating in the hotel again for the rest of the trip.

Upstairs, we got our tickets and boarded the bus with the other English speaking tour groups. We had a peppy lady who spoke pretty good English as our tour guide. She spoke about the history of the DMZ for the hour it took to drive north out of Seoul.

The first stop was the third tunnel of aggression. It is actually a tunnel dug by the North and later discovered by the south. It sounds funny, that the north would try to dig all these secret passages towards Seoul, but they actually are taken seriously. In 2002 North Korean assassins infiltrated the country and killed the prime ministers wife in an unsuccessful assassination attempt.

This tunnel has now been turned into a tourist attraction. We actually rode down a chute into the two meter high passage, and walked about 400 yards to the end, where barricade walls have been set up against the North.

Later, we saw the Dorasan train station, the northern most train stop in South Korea. It has a customs office and a terminal headed for Pyongyang, waiting to open on the "Day of Unification," which Koreans speak of like evangelical Christians and the second coming of Christ.

Finally,before lunch, we saw the last train, which was recovered from no mans land and was the last train to run between the two countries after the war

Lunch was delicious; we ate at a local, family owned place near the DMZ. we had bulgogi and delicious kimchi. After lunch we boarded a bus to head to the joint security area or JSA. this is a space actually on the military demarcation line MDL that officially separates the two countries. This was by far the most tense and most impressive part of the whole day.

Just a few feet in front of was North Korean territory. We were told of a Soviet defector who sprinted across the line and the ensuing fire fight which broke out in the parking lot of the South Korean military building. Also, we got to go inside the UN negotiations building, half of which is in North Korea and half in South Korea. All official talks between the two countries take place within these neutral zones.

The last sight in the DMZ was the bridge of no return, where POWs at the end of the war were given the opportunity to cross into the other side, for good. There was an incident surrounding this point, named the Axe Murder Incident, which lead to the official division of the JSA into strictly UN and North Korean sides.

On the way back, the new, male, overly peppy tour guide showed a loud video on the DMZ's history, which all of us slept through. We got back to the Lottee, changed our clothes, and met Mr. Yu for dinner with his wife. We saw his apartment, on a mountainside in Seoul not far from out hotel, and then went to a local Korean restaurant that they favored.

This time there was enough food to satiate my hunger, although I wasn't hungry enough to be crazy about all the raw fish. My favorites so far has been jap chae (which grandma frequently made back home) and ttaego, or sweet rice cakes that are served as a dessert. Most of the kimchi that I've had had also been excellent.


Monday, September 19, 2011

September 9, 2011

Again, this is being posted late due to poor Internet access. Below is my blog entry for 09/09/2011.

The rest of the flight went smoothy; right as I was getting cranky because they hadn't fed us in a while, they passed our bananas, sandwiches and Mom gave me an Ambien. That knocked me out until about 2pm Korea time (~3am Cincinnati) when we got a breakfast style meal and got ready for landing. Overall, the flight didn't feel too long--I watched three movies I'd been wanting to see (Bridesmaids, Easy A, and Something Borrowed), did a lot of work for GlobeMed, and slept for about four hours.

There was a shuttle bus that took us from Incheon international airport into the city center where our hotel, Hotel Lottee, is. Throughout the 90 ride, grandma began to warm up to the bus driver. She sat on the floor by his seat and chatted in Korean with him.

By the time we got to the hotel I was starving and getting tired. Service is what Lottee Hotel does best: from the bell hop pulled our bags off the bus and followed us up to the room, to the front desk person who spoke perfect English, guided us to our room, and explained all the amenities of our room to Grandma in Korean.

The hotel is pretty over the top: guilt picture frames and crown molding, giant European paintings, crystal chandeliers, and oriental rugs. In the lobby of the new wing there is a giant moving picture frame which shows various heads of state which have stayed at Lottee. The only caveat: no wireless internet. And if you need to use the Ethernet cable, be prepared to fork over 22 USD.

So after stowing our bags in the room, the three of us proceeded to the basement of the hotel which was, in fact, a giant luxury shopping mall, grocery store, and gift shop. Being 5 pm on a Friday, it was so crowded with shoppers, some of whom appeared to be getting ready to go out clubbing, and mothers who looked like they were just picking up some things on the way home from work. At this point, I was dying and desperately needed food (no exaggeration at all).

Per my insistence, we found an employee of the hotel to help us navigate the maze of stands back upstairs and to the elevator, which we took up to the 38 th floor, where there is a luxury Korean restaurant. I believe we were somewhat mislead about it's quality, since we were by far the most underdressed people there and the menu consisted of 7 courses, the cheapest option being 90,000 won per person ($90 USD).

However, I was about to faint and was unscrupulous of such details. I just wanted whatever food was closest to my mouth. Unfortunately, this is also the point in the trip where I discover why Asia has such a lower obesity rate than America: the portions size. Maybe it was partly because this was such a nice hotel restaurant and partly because it is the cultural norm, but the sizes of our entrees were TINY! To make matters worse, most of them were pickled vegetables which hardly satiated my starving belly.

I did get through the meal without actually biting the waitress's hand. The best course was lettuce wraps with kimchi and barbecue beef. Afterwards, we braved the market again to buy some Mochi for dessert. It was delicious, especially since we managed to find the kind that were ice cream filled.

I showered, jumped into bed, fell asleep instantly and didn't wake up until grandma opened the blinds to look outside at 530 in the morning and blinded me, thus beginning another exciting day in Korea.


Monday, September 12, 2011

September 8, 2011

Since our internet was initially spotty, I wrote my blog updates in Word and am now posting them one at a time.

We are in the air! Somewhere above the Great Plains region, I think. This morning we left the house at 7am for CVG. Then, after arriving safely in Detroit, our plane for Seoul departed around 12:15pm EST.

This plane is by far the largest I have ever traveled on. There are three classes, first, business economy, and economy. We are in the middle class (thank you, $160 upgrade) which earns us four extra inches of leg room, personal TVs and complimentary beer and wine to go with our two meals. (I'm thinking I may never leave, not that I have a choice, since I can't for the next 16 hours.)

The first several hours haven't been so terrible, actually. We had lunch (there was a Korean and a Western option), all the TV episodes and movies I can watch, and an outlet so I can charged my laptop (no wifi though). Still working on getting that wine. The drinking age in Korea is 18 so I'm good to go.

So, we are scheduled to get into Seoul at 3pm tomorrow (Korea time). Hopefully I'll be able to sleep and get some work done in the mean time. The pilot/stewardess keeps coming on the loudspeaker and talking in Korean. It's starting to give me a headache... guess I better get used to it though!