Wow. I’m still exhausted from yesterday, even after gulping down a large coke that came with the pizza I had for dinner. Hopefully I can detail my Saturday adventures in Itaewon in a coherent manner, but I have a feeling I’ll end up forgetting most of the information. Well, here goes:

Quinn and I were meeting some of the gang from training in Itaewon, Seoul’s district of foreigners, at 1:30pm on Saturday. We decided to leave early and it’s a good thing we did because it actually takes a long time to get to Itaewon from Suwon. The bus ride to Suwon station is 30 minutes with traffic (which there always is once people start waking up) and then the subway ride is another hour or two, depending on exactly where in Seoul we’re going and how many transfers we have to make. There were two transfers to Itaewon, which is on an somewhat inconvenient line, what with us living on Line 1 (which itself is inconvenient, but I’ll get to that later).

We got there may an hour before the others were there, which was nice because I was able to do a small amount of shopping, thinking correctly that once people started arriving we’d be so busy doing stuff that I wouldn’t have a chance to shop again. I wanted to get a good Korean-English dictionary and maybe some postcards. I did not manage to find a good Korea-English dictionary anywhere in Itaewon but I did FINALLY find some postcards. Some of the others got postcards too because for some reason you can’t find them anywhere in Korea. Lots of stationary and cards. No postcards.

After everyone arrived we wandered around Itaewon for a while, slowly making our way to the international market and the nearby English book store. The international market was a little smaller than I anticipated but it was definitely very international. Food from all over the world. Spices. Chocolate. Parmesan cheese. Worchestershire sauce. A lot of Indian and Middle Eastern food I can no longer remember. It was tempting to buy somethings but I resisted, since I didn’t want to carry it around for the rest of the day.

After that, we move on to the bookstore, which definitely had a nice selection of fiction books but sadly I was not in the market for fiction. I was in the market for a Korean-English dictionary. And their translation dictionary section was severely lacking. It was really shocking for an international area. There were basically two Korea-English dictionaries, a couple Korean-French ones, and then I think a Korean-Russian and a Korean-Arabic one and the rest of the reference books were encyclopedias. One of the Korean-English dictionary had the words written in hangul instead of romanized Korean (which is basically how most of the Korean-English dictionaries I found are organized and that’s not a good thing) could have worked but I didn’t want to shell out the₩10,000 (about $10) for it when it didn’t completely meet my needs. I think we might be planning a trip to Gangnam (the district in Seoul where we stayed for training) soon since a co-worker in April said it has a huge bookstore and an only slightly less huge English language section.

After the shopping, we met up another one of our training buddies in Myong-dong to take a trolley up to Seoul Tower and watch the sunset from the top (or as high up as you can go). It was pretty awesome but unfortunately I don’t think my camera captured the sunset very well. The only downside of the adventure is that we all realized Seoul is VERY smoggy. Here are some selected pictures!

That trolley is shockingly fast.

This pavilion, like all similar Korean architecture, is so detailed and beautiful.

After coming down from the Tower, we had some delicious beef and pork barbecue and eventually ended up at a noraebang (노래방), or karaoke bar, called Rookies. And indeed most of us were rookies. But we still rocked the mic, earning probably an average of 95/100 for most of the songs we did. The highest score was 99/100 for Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, a song that we pretty much all knew the words to. Okay, for my own amusement I’m going to see how many songs I can remember from the two hours we spent there:

  1. Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer
  2. Lady Gaga – Poker Face
  3. Six Pence – Kiss Me
  4. Metallica – Master of Puppets (HILARIOUSLY sung by two of the guys)
  5. Michael Jackson – Thriller (Sadly, we did not dance to this.)
  6. Aqua – Barbie Girl
  7. The Killers – Somebody Told Me
  8. Lady Gaga – Paparazzi
  9. Mc Hammer – U Can’t Touch This (And indeed we couldn’t touch this – this song won us probably our lowest score: 85/100)
  10. Lou Bega – Mambo No. 5
  11. Journey – Don’t Stop Believing (Another song that everyone knew basically all the words to)
  12. The Foundations – Build Me Up, Buttercup (Also, very popular)
  13. Backstreet Boys – Everybody (We had to.)
  14. Cher – Believe
  15. Grease – Summer Nights
  16. Katy Perry – I Kissed a Girl
  17. Lady Gaga – Just Dance (Okay, this was our final Lady Gaga song).
  18. There were a lot more but they’re not coming to me off the top of my head right now… I’ll go back and flesh this out later. Like I said, tired.

After almost two hours of noraebanging, Quinn and I had to bolt because it was 11pm and the subway stops running around 12pm. Which makes NO SENSE in Seoul, because that city basically doesn’t sleep. So we bolted back to the subway and when we got there a train was pulling up. A voice announced this was the “last train of the night” so we hopped on and HOPED it would take us to Suwon.

That last sentence needs some explination. So here’s the deal with Line 1. Line 1 has three branches and they end in Incheon Airport, Sinchang and Soroyan. The three branches separate at a stop called Guro, with the Soroyan branch heading east, the Incheon branch heading West and the Sinchang branch heading south. Suwon is the on the branch ending with Sinchang. When we want to visit Seoul, we head towards Soroyan and there’s absolutely no trouble because (to the best of my knowledge) no train goes from Sinchang directly to Incheon. Unfortunately, it seems the normal train also doesn’t run from Soroyan directly to Sinchang, which has caused some problems for me and Quinn (and I’m curious to know if it’s also caused problems for our friends living in Anyang, which is also on the Sinchang branch).

Last weekend, when we were coming back from Yongsan, Quinn and I hopped on what we thought was the train that would take us to Suwon. Neither of us was paying attention when it breezed past Guro and DID NOT go to the next station south but instead went to the station to the west. Luckily there was another American on the train that said we were on the express train to Incheon Airport. Oh no.

So we got off at Bucheon, which coincidently is where one of our training buddies, Karen, now lives. We got another train back to Guro, then got off and made sure this time we were on the correct train to Sinchang. And we vowed to never make that mistake again. Except we did.

When we heard that the bus yesterday was the “last of the night” (note the quotes) we just got on it, realizing it could very well be a Line 1 train that goes to Incheon and NOT Sinchang. We basically prayed it was going the way we needed it to and then started making plans for if it didn’t. We decided to call up Karen to see if we could stay with her in Bucheon for the night and then catch an early subway back to Suwon Sunday morning (I had to be back to 1. Feed Sherlock and 2. Prepare for next weeks classes). And wouldn’t you know it, after we passed Guro we found ourselves going to Incheon. We were very sad.

We had to call up one of the others we left back at the Norebang to get Karen’s number. Which is when they told us they had just caught Line 1 back to their home… WHA?! As it turns out, the train we got on WAS NOT THE LAST ONE OF THE NIGHT, even though it totally said it was in a friendly and official voice. Stupid lying train… So we called up Karen and she happily let us stay with her for the night.

Okay, before I finish up the story, let me just make a quick note about how I think Line 1 works. I’m thinking that it works in one of two ways. In the first way, the trains run in pairs, with the first Line 1 train coming through heading along the Incheon branch and the second of the pair heading towards the Sinchang branch and it’s just a matter of waiting for the right one (We didn’t realize it until AFTER this debacle but the train we were on said Incheon on the side so theoretically the second train would read Sinchang). The second way is more annoying and unfortunately this is probably the right way. Basically the only train the runs directly from the end of one branch to the end of the other is the one from Incheon to Soroyan and to get on a train that branches off towards Sinchang we’d have to always get off at Guro, cross the platform to the side that’s specifically for the Sinchang trains and get on one of those. But in any case, in the future, we should not get on the train that says Incheon on the side if we’re trying to get back to Bucheon.

The other thing we need to figure out is the express trains. One of the reasons our travel to Itaewon took so long was that there are so many extra stops between Suwon and Guro. LUCKILY there are two express trains that run along the Soroyan branch and end at or around Suwon (with both stopping there) and they 1. DO NOT got towards Incheon and 2. Skip the majority of the stops on Line 1. We need to find these trains.

And now back to adventures with Karen and Quinn. And boy was this an adventure. Karen gave us directions for how to get to her apartment once we get off the train and they basically ran like this. Leave the station and cross the street, staying on the right. There should be a castle to the left. Walk for about 5 minutes until you reach the bus stop and get on bus 70, 70-2 or any bus with two 6’s in the number and it’ll take us to her apartment.

Well. We were wandering around for an hour, if not an hour and a half, in the weirdest little neighborhood ever (It seriously looked like a movie or musical set), calling Karen every five minutes trying to figure out where we were and only getting more confused because the landmarks she was giving us were not ones we were passing. We almost got a taxi back when Quinn suggested maybe we went out the wrong exit of the subway station. And as it turns out we did. Karen doesn’t often use Bucheon station so I guess she didn’t realize there were two exits and neither did we.

As soon as we exited the correct way, we CLEARLY saw the castle – it’s a giant European-style castle (I think it’s a bowling alley) and you cannot miss it even if you tried. And from there we found the bus stop pretty quickly. Unfortunately the buses had stopped running (It was only 12pm!) and we had to get a taxi anyway.

Once at Karen’s, we watched the Golden Globes until we feel asleep. Then, she accompanied us back to Bucheon station so she could see for herself the exit we used, and we hopped a train back to Guro and then transfered on one to Suwon. I ended up getting back around 9:30am, filled up Sherlock’s water then fell into a pleasant sleep until she decided to start walking on my face.

Tomorrow promises another adventure, but hopefully this one will go easier. Monday through Wednesday I have to completely change how I teach the classes because the students are taking practice final exams. I’m pretty sure the reading portion of the classes are prepared correctly but I’m not sure about the listening portion. Looks like I get to go to work early to see if I’m missing some information.