At (complimentary, western-style) breakfast on Saturday, a bunch of us decided to go out and see what was around the hotel, maybe even brave the subway system. It seemed most people had been out already but no one had really ventured far from the hotel. Five of us ended up wandering out at around 11 o’clock. The guy at the desk actually kind of laughed when we asked what was around us that we could go see and he said there was nothing. After maybe a half-hour of walking, we realized that was true. We eventually wandered into another hotel called the Friend Hotel and Ali Baba Lounge and sure enough they were very friendly. We picked up a map of Seoul and they showed us where the big shopping areas were and how to get to the nearest subway station.

Okay, the Seoul subway kicks the DC metros butt. Hard. First of all, it’s cheap.Yesterday I paid 2,200 KRW (around $1.80) for a round-trip into the center of Seoul.  And its extremely clean. And it has TV screens in the center of the cars and at some of the doors that announce the next stop and play commercials during the ride. AND there’s an automated voice system that announces the upcoming stop in Korea and English, instead of having the driver announce them incomprehensibly over a loudspeaker. Once we figured out how to get our tickets (which I’ll admit stumped us way more than it should because we could put the machine in English), it was actually really easy to use the subway.

We got off at Chungmuro station, which is pretty much a museum. There’s a hallway that’s made up like a red-carpet event and one of the entrances is designed like you’re going down into a cave. Very cool. From there we walked to Euljiro (I could very well be spelling that wrong, I can’t fully remember the name), which we were told is a big shopping area. Wandering around there in the early afternoon, we did notice a lot of shops but there weren’t a lot of street vendors, which is what some of us were wanting to see. Also, we noticed that throughout Seoul, there are a lot of places to eat. Like A LOT alot. And there are a lot of the same businesses just a few streets apart, which was problematic when we were trying to find out way back to the hotel – but I’ll get to that later.

Eventually we found Lotte Department store, which someone said is supposed to be a big shopping store in Korea so we went inside. Oh my god. This store was huge. It reminded me of KaDeWe in Berlin, but bigger. We decided to just ride the escalator to look around, rather than wander through the store itself. First of all, there were at least 13 stories. We gave up once we got to the 12th. The top ones are restaurants but the lower floors are divided into specific things, like floor 4 is men’s ware, floor 5 is women’s ware (or maybe not, those are just examples). We spent our time in the food court on the bottom floor. Which was crazy awesome. I ended up buying a bowl of Mongolian barbecue at this place called Mongo’s Kahn Grill, which I really hope is a chain because it was good. Also, we were able to get bottled water for 500 KRW, which is the same amount that you get back when you return your subway card. And is also equal to about $0.45. And the water was delicious, if water can be delicious.

After we ate, we were all pretty tired (especially me since I hadn’t slept since the five hours of shut eye I got on the plane) so we made our way back to Chungmuro station. That was when we saw all the street vendors. The streets were unbelievably crowded and more people kept pouring in. A lot of the stores had people outside on microphones, I would guess to lure people into their store but I have no idea what they were saying.  The street vendors were pretty cool. At one point we saw this group performing some kind of song and dance show with animal masks and in front of them people were advertising a Korean health expo that’s coming up in 2010. They were giving out some kind of healthy tea (not so tasty…) and these apple flavored vitamin tablets (very tasty!). A lot of the street vendors were selling clothing but one row of them were selling seafood, including fried squid tentacles and what looked liked seaweed with barnacles on them. And there were quite a few people advertising free hugs.

When we got to the station, the train was PACKED and yet around noon, there was almost no one riding. When we got off the train, I really think I could have just lifted up my feet and let everyone else push me off because we were just one mass blob exiting the station. On a side note, at the station we learned how to read YOU ARE HERE on a map: 헌 위 지. I don’t know if that translates literally.

We ended up getting off at a station for Seoul University, which was not the station we got on at originally. But it was closer to the hotel and an almost straight walk. And yet we still managed to get lost. Our map didn’t have any street signs over than the highway numbers, so asking for directions was pretty hard. Plus we couldn’t find anyone that spoke English. To make matters worse, we kept seeing stores we had seen before so we’d think we knew where we were – only to realize that we actually saw that store on a completely different street.

At one point we wandered down this side street and found a women who -we thought- was going to the hotel. But it turns out she was going to a different hotel and said we could get directions there. The guys at the desk pretty much told us what we already knew, to just continue down the road. After walking several more blocks, we finally ran into someone who spoke English and he told us the road we were supposed to turn down. And after walking for maybe another 10 minutes we found it.

And I went straight to sleep.

Today everyone’s pretty beat and the plan is pretty much to just stay inside. Training starts tomorrow!