A last day in Seoul, and a few weird and awesome things

FullSizeRender (22)This is Anne. Anne is an English teacher who was sitting next to Mike on the train last night and asked if he would be willing to proofread an assignment from one of her students. Mike obliged and thumbed through the work on her iPad, and the two struck up a conversation. She found out we’d be leaving Seoul soon, and wanted to give him a gift. The two made arrangements to meet at the Kintex conference center today, so she could bring it to him.

She’d told Mike about her desire to be a missionary, so we wondered if we were going to get a bible or something. Later Mike and I had a conversation about what we would do if she brought us a packet to smuggle on the plane. Or, like, a baby or something really weird – with a couple of tough guys to rough Mike up and “make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

This is where our conversations go, because we are marginally kind of awful people with weird senses of humor. And because no one in the US would go out of their way to bring a thank you present in return for editing someone’s homework, so we know better than to accept the simple fact we could be on the receiving end of a straight-up thank you.

I was kind of hoping this blog, our last entry from Seoul, would be an overview of the Goyang Park Toilet Exhibition Museum so I could check off  “things we didn’t know we even wanted to visit until we knew they actually existed,” from my list, but that idea was dismissed out of hand by my travel companions last night.

There really is a Toilet Museum nearby, something I just learned about yesterday. It was dedicated in 2001 in hopes of spurring a campaign to create cleaner public bathrooms in the City, the lack of which, it turns out, was once a problem noted by tourists. I told you all about the toilet situation here in an earlier post, so I guess the campaign worked. Nice job, people.

IMG_6372Instead of the Toilet Museum, though, we revisited the Namsan Neighborhood. It was a clear-ish evening and we really wanted to eat dinner someplace we knew people would speak at least a little English, and maybe see the Seoul Tower again, this time at night.

If we ever come back, I’d love to stay in this area. There are lovely little guesthouses and hostels all over, and the prices look really reasonable. The streets are narrow and winding. Some are very steep, with staircases leading up to other streets just up the mountain. All of this is overlooked by the impressive tower.

A couple of years ago, the Seoul Metropolitan Government elected to dedicate a portion of this neighborhood to an important cultural phenomenon, and so developed exhibitions and street art dedicated to animation and cartoon artists and fans. Nothing about this was in my Lonely Planet Guide, or on any of the online resources I’d used to plan our trip, which makes me kind of sad. While we were in that area, I kept seeing street paintings and Hello-Kitty-looking park statues and painted bus kiosks and it only now just occurred to me to look up whether this was a part of any specific effort. I wish I’d known sooner.

A retaining wall along Jaemiro Street on the way to Seoul Tower
A retaining wall along Jaemiro Street on the way to Seoul Tower

IMG_6388I was also hoping for a night tour of the Namdaemun Market, which we’d visited before, but by the time we got done with dinner and up to the tower (about 10pm), it was clear the information I’d read about crowds at night was accurate. Getting up the mountain in the cable car was easy enough, but the line for the cable car back was long. By the time we got back down the mountain, I was afraid the subway would shut down before we could get back to Goyang. It would be hard to find a taxi willing to take us back from Seoul. So we rode the cable car up to the tower, took photos for five minutes, and got back in line to return.

Everything turned out fine. My Lonely Planet guide says the subway runs until 11, but the last train for our station left after midnight, so we weren’t left wandering the streets until dawn.

IMG_6402On the ride home, we met a lovely young woman from Santiago, Chile, who was visiting family in Seoul. She didn’t speak Korean or English. Mike told her I speak Spanish, which was mighty generous of him. I have been studying the language for a while, but have still only picked up just enough to get us through dinner at a restaurant with a very patient waiter. Plus, I’ve abandoned it recently in favor of studying Danish with Jack for the last several months. I’m not very adept at the language thing. It took me about six days here to figure out how to say “thank you” in Korean. I kept mixing up the syllables.

I was trying to tell my Chilean friend I’d been on a short exchange to Argentina about ten years ago, but I think I told her I’d left my children in Buenos Aires for a decade. She was pretty astonished that neither of them knew any Spanish. Slackers.

It was late and I was very tired. That didn’t help my Spanish. I didn’t even try to tell her about the Toilet Museum. But it was a nice chat anyway and we made it all the way to our station before I realized I’d forgotten to worry about whether they’d shut the train down and turn out the lights before we were able to get home.

Oh, and the gift from Anne? It was a pretty substantial bag of Korean snacks, some stationary, a journal with cartoon characters I recognized from last night, and socks (yes, I said socks. Koreans are kind of crazy about clean feet and they love socks – the little bootie kind). And yes, there was some religious literature in there along with a heartfelt thank you note.

Soon, we’ll head to the convention center for the closing ceremony for our conference. Our flight leaves at 8 am, which means we’ll be catching a cab at oh-dark-thirty, and I have to go find space for all the tchotchkes we’re bringing home.

But thankfully, no baby, or anything weird like that.

Thanks for following along on our trip!


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  1. How awesome! I love meeting new people when we travel. We\’ve never been to Korea but we have met a Korean family traveling in Israel and really became friends. We hosted them for a few days and we still keep in touch over a decade later. Korea is definitely on our list of places to visit, and we plan on meeting them again. So glad I found your blog!

    1. I\’m glad you did too! We always enjoy keeping in touch with people we meet when they or we are traveling. Anne gave us her email address and we wrote to thank her, but it bounced! Boo. I hope she contacts us. I\’d love to visit Israel and will check out your blog.

  2. What an absolutely amazing trip you\’ve been on! It\’s been so fun to see your pictures. I think that\’s so neat you\’ve met so many cool people. That\’s also amazing you know Spanish and could use it a little. My husband speaks Spanish, but I only know the little bit I learned in Junior High. ha ha. That is so very sweet that Anne gave you guys such a thoughtful gift. Seriously, it seems like Asian people are just smarter, kinder and more thoughtful than us American folk. 😉

    1. We definitely appreciated how much the courtesy and kindness of everyone we met was a part of the trip. The kids kept remarking on it.

      And if you heard my Spanish, you wouldn\’t think it was so amazing!