Sunday, October 18, 2009

Seoul and Costco (epic post!)

Yesterday we got up at 5:30am to head to Seoul.  We caught the 7:30 nonstop bus (a little under $9 a piece) and got into the city around 9:30.  I took 97 pictures, so here are some of the best shots.

Ian slept on the bus, but I was too excited!  I did manage to get about 20 minutes of sleep, though.

When we got out of the bus terminal, we had no idea where we were.  We were very hungry, so our first objective was to find our Starbucks.  There are plenty in Seoul, it was just a matter of finding one.  We weren't prepared for the size of the city and that was one of our major downfalls. There are over 10 million people in Seoul and the city itself is 605.39 km² in area.  Seattle is 369.2 km(2) for some context.

On our way to finding Starbucks we passed the gate to the Gyeongbok Palace.  We didn't go in because we were so hungry.

Then we saw it.  We had to run back up the street to find a crosswalk.  Crosswalks don't make much sense in Korea.  For a culture that walks so much, they really don't make it easy to cross the street.

It looked just like any other Starbucks.  Except the menus were in Korean with tiny English names underneath.

Ian had a hot vanilla latte with a bagel and cream cheese.  I had an iced vanilla latte with a scone.  Though the coffee was still not on par with Seattle, it was close.  Ian forgot to order sugar free and I forgot to order soy milk.  Oh, what a month will do.  There was only one Korean man in Starbucks.  Other coffee places (like Dunkin Donuts and Paris Baguette) are much more popular here.  Other than the man, there was us and an Australian family who sat at different tables.  The parents each had their own table and the two daughters (in their mid teens) each had their own, as well.  Maybe they needed a break from each other.

We stayed in Starbucks for almost an hour.  In retrospect, it was a mistake.  But, it was difficult to leave a place that felt so comfortable and so much like home.

Then we hopped on the subway and headed toward Namdaemun Market.  It seemed like the subway took a very long time.  Again, the city is huge.  It may not be as big as New York, but to Ian it felt bigger (I've never been to New York).  Maybe it seemed larger because the language barrier makes it more difficult to get around.

As we were trying to exit the subway station, we came across this underground market.  Underground shopping centers (set up a bit like Pike Place) are very popular here.  There was a little of everything, but nothing worth photographing; just the usual trinkets, books and odds and ends.  Each market is a little different.

The underground shopping centers have handy compases on the floor.  This one leads to: The Bank of Korea, City Hall, and Namdaemun Market.

When we came up out of the station, the market was very easy to find.  I'm glad we went there in the morning.  Most of the pictures I saw online showed the place packed shoulder to shoulder.

The market was divided into "alleys."  They weren't really alleys, but more of a series of alleys.  Each was named for what it's vendor's had.  This alley is called "Women's Clothing Alley."  Here you could find all sorts of clothes.  Name brands, illegal copies of name brands, inexpensive clothes, designer clothes, accessories, you name it.  Some of the shops felt as though they were repeats, but as you got deeper into the market, there was more diversity.


This is my favorite picture that I took the whole day.  This alley is called "Alley for Soldier's Appliances."  That woman is very unhappy with my photograph, most likely because they sew things on the spot and sell very close rip offs of Levis and (probably) other brands.  There was a lot of military surplus in this alley and the whole thing felt a little sketchy.  I couldn't find anything on the internet about it.

We found some classic Engrish in the market.  I later saw a kid wearing this shirt.  It says: "Slash with a Knife the happy amused."

More Engrish on the signs: "Synthesis clothes."  Sounds like a horror/ sci fi film gone terribly wrong.

This man, dressed in mock traditional clothing, was announcing some deals to be had at the store.  He seemed to hide his face every time I went to take a picture of him.  He was wearing Groucho glasses.

"Food Vendor Alley" was not as impressive as we'd hoped it would be.  The people lugging huge pallets full of goods were, though.

We went into one of the buildings off the market street to use the restroom.  They had an imported good section that was largely liquor.

But, they also had Japanese toys.  Like "Totem Pole" Power Rangers and some Thomas gear that I couldn't get a picture of because the lady working at the stand started getting suspicious.

Back out in the market, Halloween had arrived.  It was nice to see the holiday garb.  I almost bought some cat ears, but I decided I'd get them on Halloween (when we go back to Seoul) if I still want them.

Ian is very threatening.

Not too far down from the Halloween set up was a shop with tons of imported foodstuffs.  We got little things of Whoppers (turned out to be stale), Jelly Belly's, and some Japanese Thomas gum (or maybe fruit chews?) to send to Grant.

This is a terrible photo of both of us, but it's the only one where you can really see the tower in the background.  Later, we climbed the mountain (no, really) to the tower.

Me in front of the fountain in Namsan Park.

Ian in front of the fountain in Namsan Park!

Part of the Seoul skyline during our climb to the North Seoul tower.

The climb continues.  The stairs were all different, but none of them were easy to climb.  Some were too short and forced you to take baby steps, others were long and short and caused some tripping, others still were much to high and were very difficult to climb.  We could have taken the cable car up, but when we noticed them we were already on the walking path; it was too late to abort the mission!  So, we took the cable car down.

Here is the view (panned from left to right) from the picture island, half way up.

Us!  It was so windy, I had to hold my hat.

Almost there!

When we got to the base of the tower, there were more people and more happenings than we expected.  The base of N Tower is very much like the base of the Space Needle.  There is a gift shop at the base and events take place below.  There is also a revolving restaurant in it and observation decks, but we didn't go up, as it costs money and there was plenty to see at the bottom.

There were mesh men "flying" (they were just strung up on wires) all around the base.

The base advertising a Teddy Bear Museum and OktoberFest.

I saw a couple struggling to take their own picture, so I offered to take one for them.  Well, I had Ian take it because he's taller.  So, then they took one of us.  What you see on the guarder behind us are locks.  People put locks on the rail and wrote messages of love on them.  It was really cool.

Locks everywhere!

A close up of one of the locks written by an Australian couple in 2003.  Ian and I wanted to make a lock, but we couldn't find them anywhere.  Maybe next time.

There was a Cold Stone at the base!  So, naturally Ian and I grabbed a little ice cream.  I got the Cookie Mintster (mint and Oreos, my favorite) and Ian got something with chocolate, brownies and fudge in it.  It was delicious!

After we got our ice cream, we noticed there was a martial arts (military style Taekwondo, I think) show going on, so we sat down and watched it.

It was pretty cool, but the performers didn't seem very into it.  The lead guy checked his watch a few times.  Maybe he had a date.

Then we decided it was time to head back down.  So, we got on the cable car.  It was a little pricey at W5,000 a piece, but we really didn't want to traverse the stair path again.

In the view from the cable car we could see that something was on fire.  I don't know what it was, but it could be garbage, since they burn a great majority of it in South Korea.

On our way to find the vegetarian buffet, we saw this "Karaoke Sexy Bar."

We also saw this building that appears to be made from Jenga blocks.

And this man giving a hellfire sermon.  The English on his sign said "You Serpents!  You brood of Vipers!  There is burning Hell"  Ian said to me (in his classic style), "I am not a brood of vipers.  I'm a single viper at best."

We may or may not be  abrood of vipers, but there is California Pizza Kitchen in Seoul.

This is Cheongyye Stream.  We were going to walk it, but we ran out of time.  It's on the agenda for our next trip.  It's very beautiful at night.

We asked for directions roughly five times before someone got us to the Hanguachae vegetarian buffet.  Finally, a very kind woman from an information booth walked us there.  It was a tiny place in the basement floor of a building.  We came in and the woman told us to sit down.  She brought us tea and porridge (it tasted a bit like Cream of Wheat).  Then we got up and helped ourselves to the buffet.  There were potatoes, sea greens, tofu, sweet potatoes, dduk (rice cake) and salads.  It was all very good, except I didn't like the sauces all that much.  While we were up, a pu-chin-geh (Korean pancake) and some soup magically appeared at our table.  It was nice to be able to eat Korean food.  After all, the restaurant is all traditional.  It was started by a woman who learned to cook vegetarian food because her husband didn't eat meat.  Her friends told her she should start a restaurant and so she did.

Large amounts of vegetarian food!

After the restaurant, our day went downhill.  We ran out of time (as I told you, we didn't go to the stream) and when we got lost trying to find the Palace again, we had to give up on it.  It was pretty frustrating.  Even though we left ourselves lots of time for Costco (we planned to be there by 7, so we'd have over an hour there), through getting lost and having cab driver issues, we didn't make it there until 7:45.

A nice view of a Seoul alley I took while we were lost and frustrated looking for the Palace.

Some things we saw after we turned around to head back to the subway:

This stage had people performing on it all day.  When we first walked by there was a young woman singing Kumbaya.  Later, there was no body on the stage just a screen playing a video and very loud music.

There were performers on wires in front of a large video screen on the Lotte corporate building.

Trying to be happy on the subway.

I noticed (on the subway and in the city) that the people in Seoul are very different from the people in Jecheon.  First of all, obviously, there were a lot more foreigners there.  But, the people are much more urban and western in general.  I noticed small things, like the fact that people don't drag their feel in Seoul and most people walk much faster.  I also noticed larger things.  The people in Seoul read books and newspapers on the subway and in public spaces.  Reading is not something you see a lot of in Jecheon.  People don't seem interested in that type of culture here.  Movies theaters are largely empty and we've seen hardly any art.  The more we learn about our city, the more it seems depressed and indolent.  It seems as though the major cities are moving forward and leaving everything else behind.

When we got off the subway we immediately started hailing cabs.  The first cab driver we asked to take us to Costco said he didn't know where it was.  So, we got out and tried again.  The second cab driver had us tell it to him letter by letter and put it in his GPS.  Even still, when we got close (I could see the sign for the building) the driver took a wrong turn and got us stuck in traffic, causing us to lose precious minutes.  When we got there, he apologized, but still charged us full fare.

We finally made it!

Because there isn't space enough to have a big open warehouse, Costco is divided into floors, most of them for parking.

This Costco definitely chose function over form.  No fun displays, just a literal goods warehouse.  It was very busy for a Saturday night.  I wonder what it's like other times.

I ran around trying to find both things to photograph and things we needed in twenty minutes.  Next time we go, I intend to set some time aside to explore Costco more thoroughly.  I'll be sure to share those findings with you.  Here are some things I photographed this time:

Tillamook!  The only Tillamook at this Costco were the cheddar Mini Moos.

I found the sushi section (I didn't have time to check it out), but, strangely, I did not find the kimchi department.  I know it's there somewhere.

  Imported Beef vs. Domestic Beef behind a huge wine section.  Most of the wines were Australian.

Another PNW brand!  The "lightly salted" seemed more popular than the "sweet onion."  Behind them is some Oberto jerky, which I imagine would be super popular in Korea.

These pistachios conjured memories from Bruce's family reunion.

And, last but definitely not least.  The answer to Rob and my question of questions.  The simple answer is "Yes, it is the same."  However, there are no churros and we didn't try anything, so we can't answer it from that angle.  And, the menu only shows combo pizza, no cheese.  Instead of a chicken wrap they have a bulgogi (seafood, I think) "wrap" that appears to be fried.  So, while largely the "same," there are some key differences.

After Costco, we decided to take a cab instead of risk taking the subway back to the bus terminal.  And, it's a good thing we did.  The Costco was all the way across town from the terminal and it took us almost twenty minutes to get there.  We got on the bus with two minutes to spare.  We got home at about eleven, put the groceries away and went to bed.

Alright folks, it's taken me nearly four hours to sort through my 97 photos and post this blog.  I sure hope you enjoyed it!


  1. Casey forgot to mention the women that she horribly offended on the Metro on our first go. The trains here jerk really hard at first to gain speed and level off, pretty normal. Well Casey accidentally stepped on a woman's foot. She then spent the rest of the riding staring at Casey. Not just looking and turning away. Full of staring. It was really creepy. We decided that the best course of action was to simply make fun of her, I don't think she understood. However, later in the market when Casey took the photo of me in the Military Appliance Alley, I thought that angry woman was the same lady. Turns out it was just another angry Korean woman with a pink jacket, oh well.

  2. Awesome post. I had no idea Seoul was so large. Wonderful photos. The city is attractive and appears clean. Sorry your costco excurtion was so short. Hopefully you got some of the groceries you wanted.

    And there will be many more trips I am sure.

  3. Ah! I forgot to post what we got at Costco!

    We got:

    Nature Valley Granola Bars
    Organic Disney Animal Crackers
    Tootsie Pops
    A loaf of whole wheat bread
    Precious Brand mozzarella cheese
    Kirkland brand sharp cheddar cheese
    Mixed nuts
    Organic instant (rolled) oatmeal

    So, we still managed to get some good stuff.

  4. Make sure you get back to the Gyeongbok Palace... I went there the one day I was in Seoul and it was awesome! I also learned a lot of Korean history and culture while I was there (although I'm sure you don't need the culture lessons)... Sorry Seoul was so giant too, I know I would have died without Jin-Su to help me. PS - if you want a Korean tour guide who is really sweet and understanding of Americans, let me know, I can get you in touch with my friend that I worked in Alaska with! (she took me around and translated for me).

  5. Sounds like a terrific day. Glad Ian was feeling better so you could both enjoy it. I'm glad to hear you got oatmeal. Was hoping you had found peanut butter.

    We bought some Adams peanut butter and Quaker Old-Fashioned oats to mail to you but I was holding off on mailing them until I found out what you had gotten at Costco. With the knee braces for Ian and a few books, it looks like postage is going to be about $125. Yikes!

    So, do you still want the Old-Fashioned oats? And does Ian need cold-weather gear? Let us know so we know what to mail.

    We also threw in some sci-fi books for Ian but I have no idea what you like to read, Casey. Let us know.