Sunday, March 8, 2015

Day 1: Welcome to Korea!

Around midnight last night the bus pulled up to the Ibis Ambassador Hotel. The whole class got off the bus in Seoul after a grueling 17 hour flight. I can't put into words how badly I wanted to see a bed after sitting in an awkward position for most of the day.

Once I got to my room I looked out the window at Seoul; it was not what I was expecting. After weeks and weeks of searching Pinterest and tourist sites on the area, I imagined Seoul to be one big futuristic city that had so much lighting that you'd need to wear a sleeping mask to bed and Las Vegas would be put to shame. Nope. Seoul was relatively normal looking. I went to bed feeling deceived.

I woke up this morning feeling adventurous so Kritika and I explored the area before we had to meet up with the class. Both of us went down an alley behind the hotel which led us to rows of shops. These shops mainly consisted of clothing or shoes but they were amazing. We quickly went back to the hotel to begin the day with the class.

Walking to Gyeongbokgung Palace was ineresting. The class walked past protestors, entertainers, and wonderful scenery which included statues and a river. 

Once we got to the palace, I was mesmerized by the scenery.  The palace was huge and consisted of bright colors that made it stand out against the gray sky. Behind the compound were huge mountains. 

In front of the gates were guards that were dressed in traditional clothing. It took me a few minutes to realize that the guards were not wax figures. They were so still that it was as if they were statues.
  Once I entered through the gates, I started to soak in the moment and remember all the information I read on the site. 

It was built in 1395 and has served as the home to the Kings of the Joseon dynasty as well as their household staff and members of the Joseon government. It was abandoned for about two centuries and destroyed by a fire during the Imjin War.  The palace was later preserved by Prince Regent Heungson.  Sadly much of the palace was destroyed in the early 20th century. 

What surprised me the most about the trip was that we, the students, were allowed to wander around. I was expecting for a tour. 

We reached a museum behind the site based on Korean History. Inside, I learned so much about the Korean culture. Okay, maybe the chaperone Sarah Kim helped by explaining it but it was nonetheless very interesting to learn about a traditional wedding ceremony and education. 

Once outside, I had to stand there and take in the moment because it hit me that I was actually in Korea. 
After lunch, the group climbed to the top of a very steep mountain that was the site for the N Seoul Tower. There were so many stairs that my calves began to tremble uncontrollably once I got to the top. (Lame joke/pun of the day: The Seouls of my feet hurt) 

At the top of the mountain was a very beautiful panaramic view of the city. Unfortunately a lot of smog was present so it was hard to really cherish the moment.

Restaurants such as Cold Stone and a lock fence were stationed underneath the tower. 

The tower was built in 1976 and is a communication and observation tower that overlooks Seoul. 

Next I went to Insadong. This area of town consisted of various street vendors and was clearly the place to be to socialize, shop, and eat. It was very interesting to just watch the locals interact and to just soak in the scene. 

Later that night Kritika and I explored the same neighborhood from this morning. It was as if we entered a whole new place. The streets were closed and lines with food and merchandise vendors. There were bright lights and music blasting. There was not a square inch free of people. I bought food from a vendor and just walked around looking at what was being sold. The street looked exactly what I imagined Seoul to look like--bright, loud, and crowded. 
What I was shocked most about Seoul is that it actually looked a lot like a city in the United States such as Washington, D.C. with its uniform buildings and large cars. In my head I was expecting colorful buildings with huge video billboards. The people also shocked me. The people of Seoul were dressed to impress. Even the casual lounging clothes I found in the stores were very stylish and more formal than those found back home. A really shocking part of Seoul is how clean it is!  It is my mission on this trip to find out how the city is so clean without a single trashcan on the streets. Another thing that surprised me was the strong presence of smog. 

Interesting side note: high levels of yellow dust from China has covered the city for the past week or so according to the local Korean news stations. Thus a lot of people wore face masks. This was a bit of a shock for me to see that it was normal for a large amount of people to just wear masks. 

I'm really excited to see what rest of the week holds in store! 

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