Saturday, October 20, 2012

The airport at the end of the world

Carved and painted roof

Street food stall; a fishy treat!

Old doorway with roof shadow like a frill at the bottom

"38th parallell" bronze statue

Bubbling bulgogi

Les on a B52 flying fortress

Part of the National War Memorial sculpture

Ceremonial tiger drum
Flying into Incheon Airport, Seoul, was a strange experience. We flew in low over great expanses of mudflats, not a building in sight.All around was sea, dotted wth small islands or sand bars. If not the end of the world, it seemed you could see it from there. An hour's bus transfer took me to the hotel. There was a little tent set up out front and loud, rousing military-style chorus music blasting from loudspeakers. All the hotel staff were wearing bright blue waistcoats over their grey hotel uniform. Some had red head bands with Korean writing on in white. All very jolly looking! Turns out they were in protest at the hotel management and within 2 days this had escalated to a full blown strike resulting, on the day we left, in the closure of most of  the hotel restaurants, room service and other amenities! Luckily for us it was on the day we left and the breakfast buffet was still operational.
Seoul was an interesting city. First glance made me think it was flat but on walking out the hotel I realised it was far from it! More like San Faancisco.

I had dinner in the hotel's Italian restaurant (one of about 8 in house)as Les was still at a business dinner. Next morning, it was bright and sunny, so we walked down to the station and caught the great value city bus tour, one of those hop on hop off things. We toured all the historic palaces, with carved roof beams, spent an hour in a reconstructed traditional village and another hour in the artist quarter of Insadong. Having had the luxurious hotel breakfast,  we only had a coffee all day! At night we took the free hotel shuttle to Itaewon, the main tourist shopping and eating area and were spoiled for choice; everything from the various Asian styles, through Russian, Portguese, American diners, French bistros. Absolutely every cuisine imagineable. We settled on a fusion type pace where we were able to combine the salad bar with a hot food buffet and table service, including Asian and Western and both the quality and range on offer were superb.
We were glad we did not have long to wait for the shuttle bus back to the hotel as it was a tad on the chilly side compared to Hong Kong. I wore a leather jacket, 2 layers, a scarf and socks for the first time since January in Scotland.Next day we spent a long time at the Korean War Memorial museum. It was mainly outdoors with scores of planes, tanks, copters, guns and other big grey scary war machines. Les loved it. I was amused, then frustrated then very angry by the behaviour of scores of school children on field trips, ranging from toddlers (what's the point in taking them to a war history museum?They could barely walk!) to teenagers., all roaming around with little or no supervision. Where were all the teachers? The pupils were rude and loud, yelling, running around, pushing past and, for me worst of all, leaving litter strewn in their wake. Of course, I had to act on that one. I approached a group of teenage boys and asked, "Do you speak English?" Proud to show off their language skills, they said they did, so I pointed out their tinfoil lunch wrappers on the ground at their feet and then pointed to the close proximity of a clearly labelled trash can. They apologised, picked it all up and put it in the bin. Success! I felt better after that. In 35 years of taking Scottish kids to libraries, museums and literary festivals, I have never experienced such bad behaviour...well maybe once when a boy in my charge uprooted a sapling in Charlotte Square gardens at the Edinburgh Book Festival... but it wisnae his fault, honest! A big boy dun it an ran away and he was left holding the stump and looking glaikit.
In the afternoon, we wandered round the famous Namdaemon street market, which operates from 11am till 3 am with stalls selling junk, kitchen wares, souvenirs, food to eat and to take home, toys, clothes, shoes...all haphazardly thrown together in no real order. Stalls were sometimes just a tarpaulin on the ground or an adapted motorbike with a fold out table at the rear . We ate at a street restaurant; bulgogi with kimchi and other accompaniments. It was delicious.
After arriving back to a balmy 27 degrees in Hong Kong, we dumped our bags and headed straight back out, downstairs to the club lounge to meet up with some neighbours for a wine tasting. It was nice to chat  and for the husbands to meet, as we ladies already knew each other.
Today it is laundry time, as we need a quick turnaround on warm clothes.I leave for Scotland late Wednesday and Les goes to Maryland, USA on Thursday.

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