“He’d been sitting on his nervous energy for so long, it was good to have something to do with it”

SceneryView from Bibong PeakStairs to Temple 1 and Temple 2View from Bibong Peak and sheer rock face that others were climbing upWoodlandFish at COEX aquariumShark viewing at COEX

If there is one thing I’ve always wanted to visit Japan and do, and one thing I regretted not being able to do when I did visit there, is to go to northern Japan and Hokkaido and go walking. I want to see the scenery there- see the woodlands, lakes, the iconic images of the cranes in wide fields of snow. For Korea I wanted to do much the same- I wanted to see some of the scenery as I had seen online and in Family Outing. I did not think it would be possible in just three days but I soon discovered that there is a famous and very popular national park right outside of Seoul- the Bukhansan National Park. I decided to dedicate the majority of my last day in Korea to go walking there. Apparently the views of Seoul from the peaks were fantastic and the national park website had details of all the trails and listed not a single one as difficult. So I picked one,  printed a map, and made sure to pack my hiking pants and boots.

Once again that Sunday I overslept, but not so badly as the day before. I got ready for the day and packed up my backpack with supplies then headed to Daechi. From Daechi it was straight through to Bulgwang station. I was not the only one heading out walking. I had heard hiking was a popular weekend past time in Korea and its true. There were many people dressed up in their proper hiking gear. I could not help but feel under dressed in even this. I was just wearing some casual pants and my hoodie. I most certainly did not look the part like they did. The journey to Bulgwang was long but I got there eventually. This is clearly a place a lot of hikers pass through- as I was walking looking for the bus stop I passed groups of people dressed for hiking, and a long market stall on the street selling hiking gear for the unprepared. I was tempted but not foolish enough to pay the premium prices even for a jacket. Besides, it was turning out to be a fairly pleasant day. The sun was out and the air was crisp, in the distance I could see the mountains- was one of them what I was going to climb?

Of course, first I had to get there. I eventually, by the power of deduction and from visiting nearly every bus stop stumbled upon the right one, the one that I assumed the vague instructions I had managed to get through googling was referring to. There is very little information about visiting bukhansan online. Very little. the question I was then faced with was- which bus?? I looked at the little paper where I had printed out the hangul and roman alphabet of the park and the gulgi tunnel, trying to pick the stop out on the map from it. Thankfully, just then a korean who had been waiting at the bus stop stepped up to me to ask me where I was going. He took my little bit of paper, pointed “This is where you are going?” I nodded. He pointed to the map and told me the bus number, then told me “Two stops” Thanking him I stepped back and we waited for the bus together. After a little while he got my attention again. “Sorry, ” he said “it’s three stops.” I felt almost overwhelmed by his kindness. Who does such things for strangers these days? The bus pulled up and he told me “This one” and I smiled at him, thanked him again and followed him onto to the bus. I took the seat behind him and clutched my bagpack, nervous still.

I counted off my stops then stepped off the bus, finding myself quite literally stranded. The instructions I had gotten online had told me to head straight for the bibong entrance but there were two roads! Thankfully there was another couple that had gotten off the bus, again dressed in their professional gear so I followed them and yes, I could see the mountains coming closer. It was a lovely stroll to the entrance of the park. It was so quiet and peaceful and the sun was shining up ahead…It was really a beautiful day that day. I had been worried about being too cold to hike or about rain but the sky was clear and it was sunny, I even had to stop to take off my hoodie.

I  landed up at the entrance to the national park and discovered it was not the bibong entrance, but the gulgi tunnel entrance. I stared at the map of the park and realized that I could still get to Bibong peak from where I was so I decided just to follow the masses and start walking. There really were a lot of people there, all of them professionally dressed and well, professionally walking. Not out of breath and stumbling along like someone. I had been very wrong to believe the park website when they listed all their walks as easy. This was not easy. The only walking I’ve done is in the Peak district and those gentle hills and country lanes are nothing compared to scrabbling over rocks and across streams like this. Eventually the path started curving upwards and I was literally scrabbling up over rocks and half way to vertical rock faces, that of course the koreans walked over like they were nothing. My heart was pounding and my breath came fast and I was nervous as hell about slipping and falling – it would have been so easy to misstep and end up with a broken skull. Yes, my thoughts became quite morbid. Eventually I reached a rest point where I saw another map and decided on my next direction. I wished I had taken a picture of the map; it was totally different from the one online. Pictures weren’t on my mind this day though. Just staying up right and not making a fool of myself in front of the professional Koreans was. This sounds like I wasn’t enjoying myself but I was. It was wonderful, exhilarating to push myself like this. To get up and do something other than sit in front of a screen all day.

I sat and had a drink of water and took in the scenery before continuing onwards, upwards, soon stumbling upon a beautiful temple, right there in the middle of the woods. I contemplated climbing up to the temple but there were many, many steps and I knew that if I was already feeling tired from the hike to the temple, then I really should not conserve my energy for the real climb up to bibong peak.

Because yes, the climb up to bibong was even more intense- scrabbling up more rocks, my legs cramping, my chest tightening as my heart pounded and my breathing became quick and shallow. I dramatically thought to myself I was going to die. But oh it was worth it once I got to the top. The top of bibong was a sea of people in their brightly clothed hiking gear, sitting around having picnics and drinking coffee and in the background, there was Seoul, misty and bright and beautiful. I wandered around, taking pictures, taking in the sight of it and eventually landed myself a pretty neat spot to sit and stare at the view , if not a particularly comfortable spot. I slowly ate the energy bar I had brought, then the chocolate, just sitting for ages, feeling something like contentedness take over me. Even if I was cold and tired I felt so peaceful.

Along the walk there had been some people who said hi to me, and now sitting there on the top I suddenly found myself approached by a Korean man, who was offering me a  cup of coffee. I stalled him, checking who he was with (his wife and family), checking the source of the water (a shared canister between him and his family), and then he brought out a sealed sachet of coffee and I relented, accepting it gratefully. As he made it he asked me about me. I got the usual “Where are you from?” and like always I stalled. It’s an awkward question when you don’t have a set national identity, when you are living abroad so far from home. My first instinct is always South Africa,before I remember I’m supposed to say “Manchester, UK” as even if its a lie, its the one that makes the most sense with my accent. Now that I’m living in Malaysia I do contemplate saying “Malaysia”, if only to see how people react but I know that is silly. The man left me with my cup of coffee and I decided to take my time with it, slowly savouring the bitter, cheap taste of instant coffee made straight with hot water and little else. I listened to music on my mp3 player, continued to stare out at the view, filled with amazement at how wonderful it was to be there, at how content I felt. These days it is so rare to feel so content, to just sit and look at a beautiful view and not feel anxious for all the things I should be doing. I also marvelled at how, next to me, there was a sheer 70-80 degree rock face that the Koreans were walking to the top of. Koreans really are great hikers. It was a sight to behold, seeing groups of people standing posing for pictures on such a sheer jut of rock.

Of course I had to get down the peak eventually, I couldn’t wait until it turned dark! I handed the man his cup back, thanking him with my best smile, he said it was nothing and even handed me an orange before I turned away.Again, the kindness of strangers is amazing isn’t it? I don’t expect much from strangers. Having two people be so nice to me on one day was amazing.

The question was- how to get down? I followed one path only to find it was going further up to another peak, and I was tired of climbing up. So I went back the way I came and stumbled upon a path leading downwards and even though the sign did not point to where I wanted to go I decided to follow it. This was not the wisest of decisions. I found myself on a beautiful quiet path snaking through the woodland. The ground was rocky and littered with leaves and beneath the leaves lurked patches of black ice. I discovered this when I slipped on the black ice,barely catching myself in time for a heavy fall. A Korean hiker told me to “take it easy” as he passed by me. I wanted to die of embarrassment. Of course there was no where to go but to keep following the path, so I kept following the path, and it was long and it was pretty and it was treacherous as hell. I was scrambling often, gripping onto nearby trees, sometimes slipping and sliding down rocks and even at times clutching at the ground to slow myself as I let myself slide down, because it was the only way to get down. I was aware of the sting of my hands from clutching the rough surfaces, of how muddy and disheveled I looked but nothing mattered more than staying upright, than not falling. I barely even got any pictures of the gorgeous scenery- there was no time to stop, I had to keep going, I had to get through this to a point where it would end already. Even though the climb was challenging it at least had not involved ice. Sometimes I would even have to cross over streams and that was terrifying- what if I fell in?! But I managed. I kept managing.

This path really was very long, I began to get worried that it would never end and I’d be stranded after dark…but then I reached another temple, after which I crossed a bridge, and finally found myself at a near deserted tourist center. I had made it! But- how to get back to Seoul? I decided that since I had no idea where I was and how to get back to Seoul and no one to ask that I would just keep following the other people who were leaving, who eventually led me to a main road…to a bus stop. I got on the bus that was the same number as the one I had taken before, even though I technically had no idea where it was going. The road signs pointed to a station that, on consulting my wrinkled subway map, was on the line back to Daechi and so I prayed the bus would stop next to it and in the end? it stopped right at the station. This was one case where not panicking and just keeping on walking, following those that knew better, really paid off. Although it was slightly terrifying winging it like that. But there really is little to no information about getting to the park on the Internet! And what info I had found related to a totally different entrance than the one I had found myself in. In fact, I don’t this entrance was even on the map from the Internet! So winging it was all I could do.

And even though going to the national park took up a large chunk of my holiday, and even though there were moments I was embarrassed, I felt slightly panicked because I was lost or thisclose to falling it was so worth it. I was tired, I was muddy, my leg was aching most likely from stepping to hard on it whilst falling or climbing, but damn if I hadn’t done it. If I hadn’t walked for hours up a peak, then through a rocky, ice filled woodland… it was one of the most challenging walks I have done and after doing it? I feel prepared for anything. I felt exhilarated. On the bus journey I thought about all the places I still needed to go in Malaysia to get some walking done, and I also vowed to visit the peak district more often when I got back to the UK. Because walking? walking is a sport I can do. its something that I can enjoy. I want to become like those Koreans who can walk up vertical rock faces as if it is nothing. Gosh, I felt empowered. like I could take on anything, All adrenaline, of course, which wore off as soon as I got on the train.

The train journey back into Seoul felt even longer than the one going out. I kind of…napped. What, foreigners can nap on public transport too. I used to doze all the time when I was commuting.So I napped, and waited, I changed lines and then I was at the COEX mall. COEX is a confusing place but eventually I stumbled upon lotte duty free, and I couldn’t resist a look round…but it was nothing exciting. Then I realized I was really hungry and I decided to forgo the western and go to a Korean looking place! I know! Before coming to Malaysia I would never have the courage to walk into a Korean restaurant in Korea by myself, but I’ve changed since moving abroad. Yes, being a foreigner and having that cultural ignorance can be embarrassing but you know what? who cares! Well, let’s be honest here, it’s more that I’ve embarrassed myself so much being the ignorant foreigner over the past few months that I’ve reached the point where I just don’t care anymore! XD And in the end? The waiter spoke perfect English LOL So much for my courage. I ordered a pork cutlet with rice and it came…layered in vegetables and a spicy sauce, served with miso soup, and a helping of kimchi, dukbokki and that white radish thing with some kind of marinade. the radish thing was ok, the miso soup was miso soup but the kimchi and dukkboki were way too spicy for me! I could barely handled my tentative mouthful. Korean food really is too much for me! XD

After that I went to the aquarium. It was a nice, small one and they had a really cool section- and this was the reason I wanted to go there- where they were keeping the fish in unique tanks- old phone boxes, sinks, a tank behind a bed. One fish tank even had little sensors in it so when a fish swam past a certain place it would make a music note sound. I stared at that one for while, fascinated, and feeling very much like a Typical Engineer. After COEX I went to Myeongdong one last time to pick up a couple of gifts for my sister…then got lured into a couple of other stores… then it was back to the hotel. After too little sleep I had to check out, then I had to run across a busy road and chase after the bus in the pouring rain cos I was late…thankfully it stopped. I cannot bear to think what would have happened if I missed it! I sat on the bus and stared out the window, taking in the last sights of the city and eventually, Incheon. Then it was back to Malaysia and the daily grind.

It was a very short, very hectic but very amazing trip. A perfect little break from daily life. Korea is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go but I’ve never wanted to spend the full £900+ on a plane ticket to get there, so this little trip was more than enough. I do think I’d like to go back sometime- but as a stopover, maybe before I got to Japan this summer.

This also marks my first attempt at blogging about a trip I went on and hmm..I failed a little didn’t I? Oh well. I have two more trips to practice with!


Many,many steps leading to Suwon FortressOne of the many buildings making up Suwon FortressSuwon
Beautiful Hanbok uses in Jewel of the Palace
Japanese themed lanterns for Seoul lantern festival 2012Shopping!

I had made very careful plans for each of my days in Korea, but with the expectation that they most likely would fall through,  as I only had so much time, and I had not accounted for travel times in my plan. Indeed, I ended up spending an unfortunate amount of time just on the train!

The first day in Seoul I kind of ended up doing what I felt like, and for my second day it ended up that I simply did not have enough time to do what I wanted to do! It did not help that I felt so comfortable in my hotel room that I ended up oversleeping, of course. I had planned an early start to give myself time to get to Suwon and even though I knew it would most likely mess up the rest of my time, I decided to head off to Suwon anyway. How far could it really be? Turns out, very. The train journey had a number of confusing changes and when I was finally on the right train it was a long, uncomfortable and cramped journey. There seems to be a certain code for how to stand on busy trains in Seoul and I am not sure I was following the unspoken rules which made me feel a little awkward, along with all the other things starting with the fact that I was an obvious tourist and ending with how self conscious dressed as randomly and inappropriate for winter as I was. Despite my new hoodie, it was still too cold. As I headed out of the center of Seoul I felt it getting even colder, if that were possible. Outside, the scenery changed too, losing some of the glamour of central Seoul. From what I have seen of Asia that has been a trait- the glossy malls and such of the central city, so different from the outskirts and the towns that lie outside…It’s very different from the UK.

I am not sure what I expected Suwon to be like but nothing could have prepared me for how different it was to Seoul. It was…hectic. I think that is the most appropriate word. I stepped out of the station and there were people everywhere. I had no clue where I was going or what to do and so was very thankful to see a tourist center close by. I asked one of the ladies there where to find the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress and she handed me a slip of paper with the list of bus numbers I could take and the name of my stop in hangul and roman alphabet. Well, feeling a bit more confident I walked down to the bus stop and meandered my way up and down, trying to figure out from the mess of people and buses what on earth I was supposed to do. I eventually got myself on a bus and sat down, playing with my little slip of paper anxiously.

Of course I had gotten on the wrong bus.

And I had no idea what to do.

I mentioned that the Seoul subway is ridiculously tourist friendly right? Well, the buses aren’t.

I quickly got off the bus and spent an unfortunate amount of time staring at the map, trying to find out which bus to take. It seemed that somehow I gone in the totally wrong direction for the fortress. After a bit of wondering around I found another bus stop and the right bus, and got on it, then got off at my stop. Alas, there was still the problem of – where the hell was the fortress? And this was the center of Suwon and it was packed with people. I wondered around some more until I found a side street with an interesting looking building on the end. Thinking I had little to lose I walked towards it and then, to my right, was the fortress. I was pretty amazed at this stroke of luck and quickly bought my ticket, then started the long, long walk up the many, many stairs. By this point I was beginning to wonder what was going on. In the research I did I had though suwon fortress was a palace, and where did these stairs fit into it? And just where was the palace? I had found myself walking on a dirt path, woodland to one side, a stone wall to the other and more woodland on the other side of the wall. I looked at the map and made the first discovery of things I should have known earlier- suwon hwaseong fortress is very large, compromising of the central palace section (which was what I had originally planned to visit only!) and several other buildings scattered all over the place. Well, what else could I do? Even though I was not wearing my walking boots or anything as sensible I continued to walk on.

I saw many different buildings, a bell tower, a giant bronze statue, I walked along some walls, I saw some impressive views of Suwon. I made the second discoveries of things I should have known earlier- that Suwon is almost a fortress town. The fortress is scattered through the city, and it is poorly sign posted. I made this discovery when I decided I really did want to see the central palace section. I stepped off the walls and headed inwards, where I discovered some other tourists who looked like they knew where they were and quietly followed them until they stopped and decided they were lost and headed off somewhere else. Well, it wasn’t like I could turn round and follow them back- then it would make it obvious I had been following them! So I carried on, searching for a street that would take me back to the main road. I felt nervous, walking along the quiet backstreets, so obviously a tourist with no clue where the hell she was. Finally, I got back to the main road and I continued to walk forwards- what more could I do? That seemed to be the theme of the day. For all my plans, I was forced to realize I was very unprepared for the reality of this holiday (although, I do have a notoriously bad sense of direction!) But my meanderings eventually paid off and finally, I spotted the main palace. By this point it was getting pretty late but I thought that seeing so I had gone to so much effort to find it I might as well look. It was interesting but I quickly grew bored and getting lost had put my in a bad mood so I actually left pretty quickly, probably a bit of a waste of ticket really, then I had to find a bus back to the station and finally, get the train back into Seoul. (Which was even busier than the first. Fun! Although nothing can quite beat the Malaysian sky train at most hours. At the very least I wasn’t physically cramming myself into the train and against a wall of people at any point during this holiday!)

I wanted quite badly to go to the Gwacheon science museum, after seeing it on running man, however it was closed by the time I got into Seoul. So in the end, I had to forgo it. If there is one thing I wished I did differently on this holiday it would be going to Gwacheon Science Museum on day 1 instead of the Korea national museum! There wasn’t anything I could do though so I cut my losses and headed to my next destination- lotte department store for some high end shopping. Gosh, it is somewhat liberating and slightly addictive just to splurge with no restraints. I don’t want to think about much I spent on cosmetics on this holiday- although I reassure myself I saw a lot of tourists with a hell of a lot more! This day, I bought the HERA bb cushion I had been lusting over, although for some crazy reason I decided to buy it for my mom instead. I also bought a full size of my favourite facial sunscreen, the HERA sun mate daily. The girl at the HERA counter barely spoke English but she was very helpful despite the fact that I clearly looked too young and broke and shabby to be shopping there, which was something I appreciated. She went out of her way to try to understand what I wanted, even letting me right down my question so she could confer with someone else. Usually in the UK assistants at counters take one look at me and dismiss me and are never quite so nice. Next, I bought my favourite whoo cleanser. I have gotten through 100 samples of this stuff, and now halfway through my first bottle of it- which was a luxurious 20th birthday present! I adore this stuff, even though for the price the packaging is awful and not at all at the level the price indicates. oh well, the product is marvelous! I then went to the laneige counter and the girl was so sweet, asking where I was from, how long I had been in Korea etc. I mean, it was obviously fake/put on but I again appreciated being treated like this. I had gone there to buy a certain product only to find it was discontinued, but I asked the girl for something similar and even when she recommended me what was obviously the latest and what she had been asked to promote, I let myself be suckered in. Nearly walked away with more but managed to restrain myself!

It was kinda late and I was hungry so I headed up to one of the higher floors to go to an Italian restaurant, wondering if Korean Italian food would be as interesting as Japanese…but it turned out to be disappointing. very expensive not very tasty food, unfortunately. :( After that I left lotte and made plans to head to insadong, but instead found myself at Cheonggyecheon stream. Once more, this really was turning out to be a random holiday!

Well, Cheonggyecheon was very, very, very crowded. There was some kind of lantern festival on though so it was very pretty! I just walked along, let myself be carried along with the crowds without really bothering to take many pictures. Sometimes I prefer to do that. In fact a lot of the time on this holiday I was content just to ‘sit back’ and experience it, without worrying about taking zillion of pictures to remember it. I’m not a photographer and although I enjoy taking quick snaps to record my holidays  sometimes its just so nice to view things from outside of the viewfinder. It was too crowded to take pictures anyway. I want to say it was a relaxing stroll but I could not quite relax in such large crowds.

It was late so I went back to the hotel- making a quick stop at the convenience store on the way to pick up supplies for the next day where I was going to go hiking in Bukhansan- of course I needed something for  when I reached the summit of the peak I was planning to go up, and a little snack before bed. :P I spent some time before bed flicking through the channels trying to find a drama to watch or music program but sadly, if I remember correctly, there were only bad soaps on!

“He stood up straighter. Something heavy and invisible had relaxed its taloned grip, left its familiar perch on his shoulders and winged away”

seoul day one- incheonseoul day one- hotel roomseoul day one- the palaceseoul day one- cunning planseoul day one- museumseoul day one- cosmetics

Getting to Korea was a strange combination of stress and utter boredom. Although I’ve flown before there was only once that I was alone and there were many moments where I wondered what I was supposed to do, and I pretty much used up all the credit on my phone texting my dad for instructions. Of course there was a lot of waiting around and queuing and more waiting around which led to the boredom. My flight was at 11.35pm, and I had made myself nicely sleep deprived so I could sleep on the plane, but this meant by the time I was sitting at the gate I was ready to pass out. Eventually I boarded and to my surprise, and luck, the three seats next to me were empty. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first but eventually I sprawled out greedily across the row and attempted to sleep. Sadly, despite my luck I could not sleep through the whole journey- sleep came in fits and starts. I kept waking up, falling asleep, waking up.

And just like that the plane journey crept slowly to its end and I was in Korea. Being tired and feeling slightly sick from disturbed sleep and the plane journey was not a good mood to go about my first day in Korea, but I was determined not  to spend the first of only three days in the hotel. I got my limousine bus ticket and got my first taste of winter when I stepped outside to the bus ranks. I had naively being expecting Korea to have clung onto autumn just for me but nope, it was bitterly cold as I sat there waiting for the bus and I was more than relieved when the bus came. I really have forgotten what cold feels like, even after barely two months in Malaysia I have become accustomed to being warm all the time.

I wished, not for the first time, that I had thought to pack more of my normal clothes. Everyone told me that it was hot in Malaysia, so I enthusiastically put together a summer wardrobe- when my skinny jeans and a t shirt would have been just fine. Not for the first time, I missed my skinny jeans. For the first time, I missed: My thick cotton jersey. My coat that goes all the way to my knees, with its hood that covers my head to the point I cannot see either side of me. My brown boots that are lined with fleece.

Instead I was wearing two camisoles and a vest top, a long sleeved top and a hoodie that may have once been thick and fluffy, but was thin and worn out from age. Jeans. Black flats with socks that did not come all the way to my knee. no scarf. no gloves. not even my fingerless gloves that my sister likes to tease me about because she thinks they are pointless.

The journey from incheon was a long one, but peaceful. The bus was pretty much empty- just me and two other woman- so it was quiet. I listened to music and watched the passing scenery through the dirty glass- of the sun rising over the beach and the sea. It was straight out of family outing, but real, and so beautiful. and so surreal. I got into Seoul mid morning and the bus dropped me conveniently right outside my hotel- the Ibis Ambassador Gangnam. I was way before the stated check in time but they didn’t even say a word, and let me check in with no problems  and it was in no time at all that I was in the lift heading up to my room.

Man, I just grinned wen I saw my room. It was more than substantial for just me- a double bed, plenty of space in the main room, a small but clean bathroom with one of those fancy Japanese toilets (three words: heated. toilet. seat). Oh, to come from a crappy dorm room to that was an immensely wonderful feeling. I mean, there were some minor dislikes- the room lighting was too dim, for one, and there was a lack of basic amenities- those things you don’t expect a hotel to have but its always nice to arrive to like hand soap for the bathroom, perhaps toothpaste, cotton pads, shower caps. Those little touches. But  the room was spacious, and clean, with a deliciously large bed and hard mattress (yes, I like a extra firm mattress – I hate the ones you just sink into, can’t sleep at all with them! ) and free of funny smells and bugs. so I was more than happy. I took a lengthy shower and organised my things then headed out.

I did not really know where to go to find a subway station and I had no map but somehow I stumbled upon daechi station, which took my directly to my first destination- the Gyeonbokgung Palace. The palace structure, as well as the nearby palace museum, greeted me immediately upon exiting the station. I headed for the gates and stumbled into the palace where I was soon made to realize I had arrived exactly on time for the changing of guards ceremony! I joined the crowds milling about taking videos and photos. It really was quite cool. I’ve seen this kind of stuff on Korean dramas- but never real! The costumes, the palace structure, the traditional Korean music, it was quite something to have it right there in front of me rather than on a screen. I enjoyed that and then went to get a ticket and for a walk around the palace. I was absolutely frozen to the point that many parts of me were either numb/and or painful so although I did enjoy wandering around the palace i was intensely grateful for when I found the National Folk Museum- and was able to get indoors! The museum was fairly interesting- once again, I was just in a state of amazement at being able to see this stuff real. To be able to read about Korean history and traditional culture was fascinating, and different and I did shamefully always have Korean dramas in the back of my mind- comparing everything, letting myself understand them in a new way. it was awesome. After the museum I sat for a bit to have a delicious green tea latte and Korean rice cake then headed back into the cold to see more of the palace. I didn’t have a map so I was really just wandering around, taking in the impressive palace structure and the vivid autumn colors that Malaysia will never see.

I briefly popped into the palace museum before going to the station, but although it was interesting I was eager to get going to my next destination and I was soon on the train. Have i mentioned that the seoul subway is ridiculously tourist friendly? Compared to how confusing the Japanese train system is, Seoul’s is easy- mostly because it was all in English. I had also been able to buy a t money card at a convenience store at the airport- again, really easy even though I can’t speak korean- which meant I didn’t have to mess around buying tickets. It was so easy getting around seoul- by train, that was. Walking would be another matter, as I would find out.

Anyway, my next destination was the national museum of Korea and I admit, I don’t think I should have gone here. It was very large and spaced out to the point where it was a little overwhelming. Not the sort of place suited for ‘just popping in’. I had a meander around seeing as I was there but I was only there around an hour. there were some interesting displays there, and I did enjoy the section on calligraphy but it was just a bit of confusing place really! And of course it was also closing time so I couldn’t stay longer!

I was dead tired by this point, and hungry but still determined to make the most of my day so I headed out to Dongdaemun with the intention of checking out doota shopping mall and picking up something warm, so I didn’t freeze half to death in the following days. Of course all the clothes were gorgeous, and hideously expensive. I longed to buy them all but in the end they were winter clothes, and how could i justify buying a load of winter clothes when I was going back to a tropical country? With some regret I ended up walking away with just the one hoodie, a thick fluffy thing that I had hope would keep me warm and had not cost too much. By this point it was raining, so I was wet and cold. a part of me wanted to retreat back to the hotel but most of me was determined to continue shopping. so I got on to my next destination- Myeongdong- for some serious shopping!

I had loaded my credit card with most of my savings and I was determined to spend them! I justified splurging on cosmetics by the fact that they would be so much cheaper than if I were to buy them online- I mean its just ridiculous how much online shops bump up their prices. And Skinfood and Laneige here in Malaysia are also crazily marked up. I wish their was an adambeauty for k cosmetics but there isn’t, so I had made a mental list of things I wanted and I was determined to buy them- and maybe one or two extra things! I surprised myself by just how good I was with sticking with the list actually, and not being too impulsive. I think I was actually just enjoying the process of shopping for the Korean cosmetics i love so much in the actual stores.  I loved seeing the familiar brands, and actually recognizing the faces in the advertisements and the music playing over the speakers. it was raining heavily by the point though and I had to be the only person in Korea without an umbrella, and I was getting soaked.

But I persevered, ducking in and out of shops and hoping no one would mind my bedraggled appearance. I wonder what the sales people thought of me actually- they must have wondered what the hell I was doing shopping for cosmetics. As well as thoroughly wet, I wasn’t exactly prettily dressed, and my skin was freaking out from the plane journey and the change in climate already, and I was tired as hell and I’m sure it showed.  Korea is just like Japan in the sense that everyone is very well put together there- seriously, all the women and men are so fashionable and gorgeous. Outfits, just so. Makeup, just so. What I love about Korean fashion though is how the girls also make boyish outfits – boots, loose hoodies, even sports clothes- look cute and feminine- how do they do that?! I really do wonder. anyway, I definitely felt very much the ugly tourist. but I was too damn happy to care. I was tired and hungry but in just one day I had grown to love Seoul, for most of the same reasons I love Tokyo, or Nagoya. There is a energy to these cities, a vibrancy. Late as it was myeongdong was bustling, and the city was lit up and you could hear snippets of music from the stores, sales girls calling out for people to come and buy things, the hum of many conversations going on. It had just the same energy as somewhere like shibuya- and I love that energy. The crowds are a bit scary, but there is something amazing about losing yourself in them, in the midst of the skyscrapers and the bright city lights. These places are so modern, so convenient, and yet they retain their own character – a spark of their traditional cultures, the influence of them, something makes them unique and beautiful. I also love how those pockets of tradition – like the palace- exist right in the mist of the skyscrapers of these extremely modern cities too. Like, one moment I’m in a palace, the next I’m on a train surrounded by fashionable men and women attached to their smartphones and tablets, the next I’m browsing stores for vibrating bb creams (not as dirty as it sounds) and bb cushions (not as literal as it sounds) listening to music that is so American but yet not. That’s the thing- its western, but not quite. (In Japans case- somehow they manage not at all. But Seoul seems to have a heavier American influence and I know nothing so I won’t start ruminating on why) Its wonderful. I had gotten what i wanted out of Seoul – an escape. Being somewhere so different, shedding away the routine of every day life, spending money without thinking of consequences, not having to worry about embarrassing myself around people because I know I’ll never see them again, and I’m a tourist which gives me some leeway. It was fun.

My first day in Korea had some hiccups but for the most part it was wonderful. I crawled into bed (ok, so I totally intentionally flopped down and sprawled out in satisfaction on my wonderfully hard, wonderfully large, wonderfully clean bed) that night very excited for the next day.