Monday, 29 October 2018

Seoul, South Korea: Gangnam, JYP & Olympic Parks!

Keeping my hands on the ride was that my Korean holiday was getting on and then! Catching some 'Gangnam Style' and Samsung, I wasn't ready for my final instalment of Seoul sightseeing. A Strong coffee and a sense of getting on with it would be needed that day, the night before had gotten me bad! I was looking for the Olympic Park and the JYP Entertainment thing!

The morning time was filled with drama but thanks to Seoul's vast Subway I eventually crossed the Han River, I was on the lookout for some Gangnam Style! Taking an age in my hungover state it was such a relief to be amongst the towering glass structures that made Seoul's financial district. Home to many cosmetic hospitals it was easy to see the widened eyes upon the models posing on the billboards in the street and on the adverts for the surgeries. It didn't necessarily feel like I was going to see PSY trot down the busy streets of Gangnam but it did have a certain feel about it. Turning the corner I found the gargantuan SamSung Center, one of Korea's most famous brands for electronics. I could have been in New York City or London because it was truly an international setting with all the noise, glass and modernity. The day had seen a rocky start but I was taking my final afternoon in Seoul with all I had! Itaewon was bad for me!

Made famous for the chart-topping K-POP hit 'Gangnam Style' by PSY, representing Seoul with its larger than life music video, it showcased a once far off East Asian City that I knew I needed to visit! In all honesty, I should have spent one night out in Gangnam but the hill near my Itaewon hostel had too many devilish delights to enjoy, Gangnam had to be shelved for the day time! Would I be getting any fillers or cosmetic work done during my Gangnam stop? No, it was just too expensive for me to pay those prices, but in the future I'd be down for a lip filler or botox consolation for sure! Getting things together I lived for the next level nature of Gangnam's energy, from a Chinese perspective it reminded me of Shanghai's futuristic riverside with its modern towers, Gangnam's skyscrapers didn't have conversations with the clouds like Shanghai's do but they impressed me much all the same. When I return to Seoul, I might go back down to Gangnam for a night out but Itaewon had big shoes to fill!

For me the beat of Seoul had to be the K-POP music! Behind the machine that manages the practically perfect pop groups and solo acts of South Korea, there's one company that screamed out to me! 'JYP Entertainment' rules the roost along with a few other leaders in the K-Pop music industry. I was first introduced to K-POP music when I lived in Wuhan. JYP's 'Wonder Girls' captivated with their sexily crafted choreography and their sultry whispered lyrics, from that moment on I was captivated by that powerhouse of South Korean music! Where were the guys at? Yes, the guys who make up such bands within K-POP biz like 'Got 7', 'BigBang' and my favourite who have to be 'IKON'. Now, I would gladly fall into a 'Love Scenario' with one of those delectable guys! Fast-forward to the cafe at JYP Entertainment, it looked like swish demo lounge with a screen displaying K-POP videos and a stage for promos? It was so bizarre!

No, I didn't see any K-POP stars but the whole style can be found on the streets of Seoul, I had never seen so many guys with such flawless skin, perfectly cut 90's bowl hairstyles who were all rocking the latest K-POP styles! The Korean women were definitely looking pretty but 'Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus' those gentlemen slayed the competition hands down, leaving the scenes of 'JYP's' cute promo cafe I passed through the Duty Free at Seoul's Incheon Airport, the views were phenomenal, such beautifully presented gentlemen stood poised to assist passengers who were looking for cosmetics, truth be told those guys might have used them all up? Safe to say the K-POP phenomenon manipulated me for those few days whilst in Seoul with those flawlessly looking gentlemen folk! Seoul served all of that and more with its K-POP niche, yes the cocoa dusted hot chocolate tasted like heaven as I watched the music videos at 'JYP's' own 'Soul Cup Cafe'. My trip in was nearly over! Yes, Sel!

The final segment of my final sightseeing day in Seoul was a brief encounter with the park at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Park, conveniently located across the road from 'JYP's' 'Soul Cup Cafe' meant I didn't have to walk too far because by that time I was ready to sleep for a week! The peace and quiet that surrounded the park made me feel like I was a million miles away from the noise and chaos of Gangnam. I didn't spend much time at the Olympic Park but it was a nice scenic place to conclude my final full day in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Things seemed very subdued, I wanted things to stay that way because I wasn't feeling good, the night before had been insane and it was almost time to go back to Beijing, I really needed my bed! The calming nature of that Olympic Park wrapped my Seoul adventures into one big journey, the previous four days had been mental and right there didn't regret a single thing! No SK!

The Olympic Park subway station was my finish line, boarding one of three trains I made it back to that magical 'foreigner corner' in need of a kebab! The day had started off quite extraordinarily but I made sure it counted for something, the subway system had my back, helping me get to and from Itaewon. Gangnam showed me everything I needed to see, from cosmetic surgery billboards to the towering SamSung Center I was impressed within my hazy state. Bringing some K-POP vibes into the mix I was able to have a nice hot drink at the 'Soul Cup Cafe' at the headquarters of 'JYP Entertainment' because I wanted to incorporate something K-POP into my day if possible. Meeting with the finishing point of my final day in Seoul at the Olympic Park felt like such a relief, I had done what I needed to do in the state I was in! Seoul had me pretty crazy but I never allowed the hangover to stop me from seeing the things I saw! Back to the hostel it was for some good food and I didn't expect to meet such a cutie in the coffee room! Accomplishing lots during my five days in Seoul was my plan, trip fulfilled it was back to BJ!

Seoul's Scenarios!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Seoul, South Korea: Palaces, Rivers & TV Towers!

Waking up feeling fresh on a glorious Wednesday healed my hangover, making the most of the G's free breakfast I headed out for the day. The previous day I wasn't very present, Gyeongbokgung Palace didn't happen, I needed to change that situation! Seoul's Nam Sam Tower was on my list without a doubt! Getting my life together, so Seoul held the key to a full-bodied day! 

Gyeongbukgong Palace helped me seize that Seoul morning, paying the small fee to access the palace grounds made perfect sense to me. Originally constructed around 1394 during the Joseon Dynasty I had a sneaking suspicious that some parts of the palace had been rebuilt, but saying that it all looked so authentic I paid that thought no mind. It was busy but it wasn't anywhere near crazy China would had of been during that Golden Week holiday. Ladies from all nationalities were adorned in the national Korean dress, those Hanbok's looked beautiful and the guys were dressed in the male equivalent. The Guenjeongjeon Hall stood right before me, shining with a rich red and green imperial Korean design that impressed me much! Keeping my manners in check I refrained from taking any interior photos, inside the Guenjeongjeon Hall looked very nice with an equally regal style. Seoul was looking just fine once again! 

Going international is the key, people took their photos and moved on swiftly, not like the usual hullabaloo in China. In my next life I'd want to be an imperial Korean Hanbok wearing princess! Leaving the royal courtyard behind me, I walked a little further into the ground to find the gardens that surrounded the National Folk Museum of Korea. I paid no attention to the museum, the mornings raise felt too good to miss out on, getting a drink from a nearby vending machine I took some time to chill out. I absolutely adored Gyeongbokgung and its many regal structures and the feel of the gardens put me at ease. The air was clear and tasted fresh, when you've lived in China for sometime its always a blessing to breathe in air that feels fresh! Nevertheless, I felt good and had saved some time seeing the palace and its grounds earlier on in the day. I had found the palace the previous day but that Soju induced state forced me to turnaround and try again the next day. Seoul slayed again! 

Getting to the Han River took an absolute age, the Seoul Subway system almost had me in circles. Finding somewhere to sit was appreciated, the cityscape along the Han River set the mid-afternoon just right, I had only just got over one hangover and I was already thinking of the next Soju! Thinking forward to my forthcoming trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, how different the Taedong River would look compared to its southern sister. The bikers energetically sped pass but my speed was practically zero, on reflection the view wasn't swanky or luxurious because I hadn't gone to that location by accident, accidents are the best to make to find the best things in a city! Seoul had me under its spell, I didn't care about the understated view, in fact its what I was living for! Seoul kept me living for its Korean cool. The subway had taken the Michael but I had made my destination nonetheless! Honestly, Seoul's riverside was just right for me!

Ditching the map, I was on the hunt for Seoul's N Tower the wrong way around. Finding a random shop I scrapped my pennies together to buy the first bottle of Soju of the day, getting on the right track I managed to find the vista of the tower in my sights. I was in such a great place, not just geographically, it was amazing to be out of a place that I had seen so much of. China is my heart but I was living for Korea's nonstop vibe, the signs are something that I loved the most. Seeing the first Korean signs in Shenyang, Liaoning had me looking at something different. Going down some stairs then climbing a hill led me to a rather hipster sight, that alternative hipster Korean hill gave me something different. Those Korean gentlemen looked amazing, sipping their booze during the dusk hour they looked lovely. I already had the night ahead in my head, the holiday was becoming something of an adventure and then some more! Yes, day three slayed, Nan Sam Tower grew closer and closer!

After biggest hill ever I reached a respectable height, but even that climb was enough to reach the Nam Sam Tower. Things got pretty flashy, a well known Hyatt hotel brand came into view. Half remembering the directions given by one of the managers at G Hostel in Itaewon, I trusted those details, climbing higher and higher had me in this snooty area with hilltop restaurants and Beverly Hills style houses. Entering some kind of wilderness pushed me to my limits, getting over that initial burn I pushed forwards. It was something I needed to do! Making it to a viewpoint was enough for me, getting amazing panoramic views of the city had me captivated by Seoul's charm. Going down back to the city, I was living with the views, I captured my best shot of the tower with a bottle of Soju in hand, in Asia its acceptable to drink a beverage outside a local shop that has its own chairs and table. For those simple reasons I loved Korea! 

Satisfied with the views from my convenience store scene, I made it back to Itaewon. Finding a second hand bookshop impressed me much, getting a sports car book for the boys in my classroom had to be the one. I had gone batshit crazy the previous night out on the town, my money wasn't being budgeted well because I had only bought the bare minimum, Korea had me mad! Getting some funds sorted, I needed food! That hill needed revisiting, getting that sorted was a done thing, getting back to my tricks wasn't the right thing but I needed to be bad that night! Seoul had me slaying epically, I had to be on my game and then some in some venues because those drinks had got me bad! Did someone say something familiar and outright mad? Falling into the grey is where I leave that business, for the night took a turn I not prepared to mention, it wasn't bad or dangerous but for readers discretion and my Nan! Leave it to your imagination! Seoul had me on form, I was living for?

It Started...

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Seoul, South Korea: Itaewon, Hanbok's & Myeongdong!

I had no idea about Itaewon, that foreigner central area would play havoc with my head and chakra! Settling into my hostel, I felt a certain thirst for Soju. It would be in the homeland of that drink, things were going to get turned up! Seeing a certain sight that intrigued me kept me wanting more! Thankfully I had things to buy the next day, Seoul wasn't going to let me off!

Feeling completely foreign I ended up at the wrong station on the Seoul Subway because I was too busy checking out the talent. Finally arriving at G Hostel in the heart of Itaewon didn't need much to start me. It was a match made in craziness, those boozy Soju nights had come to real life, with my phone charged I walked into the night with full force to find a certain hill. I found one bar open and being the wrong side of the weekend, an underground club was also a welcomed surprise! Getting my first holiday drinks on I luxuriated in the fact I was in a foreign country, but no WeChat or familiar words were found. Getting a snap with Lily Savage's long lost Korean sister impressed me much! Not feeling complete with the night I bumped heads with a familiar sight, getting the things I needed I made that move possible. A certain bar kicked off the night fine. What went on that night made the first night of my SK experience! 

At the other side of a magical and surreal experience I got myself together the best I could. I was out of China, in another country that I had been looking forward to explore and then some! To be honest I hadn't really paid much care till the night time on the first evening as many people do on the first night of their holiday. Cracking open the Soju I enjoyed that strong drink and then some, for the extras that carried on I am not prepared to say. My first night and second morning in Seoul had a certain edge to it, but with that certain difference it wasn't going to be a problem. Only vacating that situation would give me clarity that morning, Seoul had shown me many colours that I had embraced their fullest, things weren't going to have their second chance saloons. Making my tracks back to the hostel in the mornings light gave me the confirmation the night had been full of mysterious twists and turns. Was I expecting this? No! Yes, the photo is of the morning after the night before! Go!

Embracing an almighty hangover and having experienced something extraordinary, I pulled myself together to see a slice of Seoul, South Korea. Chicken and beer sure saved me that early afternoon. Hitting the free coffee at the hostel was a good start, after five cups I found myself near Dongdaedon Market, if truth be told I felt like death but I needed to move on. The shoes didn't impress me but after a wrong turn I found a whole street made up of toys, it was a preschool teachers paradise with all of those goodies. I was genuinely looking for a Hanbok that would fit a little girl, it would take a little longer for that to happen. Beating the tourist prices I bought some unassuming magnets to the normal eye, after my Montessori training I had to get them! Those magnets have brighten up the mornings for some of the girls in my class, not to mention the book we have created from their drawings. But why did I get magnets SL?

I saw that my magnets were made in Korea, thankfully it wasn't its bigger cousin in the western direction. I managed to say 'thank you' appropriately in Korean, let alone I hardly speak English. Getting a hand puppet frog and a plush pink pig that had absolutely nothing to do with Peppa, no I don't endorse that little nightmarish piglet. Getting my goods during that Dongdaedon Market trip I found myself looking at more delicious South Korean men, it was a pleasure to be in-company of such smooth looks, yes they looked flawless, the women stepped back. I was going under at that point and the confusing signs on the Seoul Subway didn't impress me for once, I had to get it together several times before heading to the right destination. I can't express how hard the hangover was at that point, the pharmacist was consulted! The Seoul streets felt very different compared to Beijing's own, I appreciated the views and the Korean street signs, but those gentlemen folk were super hot hot!

Arriving at Anguk station was only possible because my Chinese reading skills relied on the translations at the metro stations, they seemed to make more sense to me, why I don't know? Trying to find the Gyeongbukgong Palace wasn't meant to be for that day, saving for the next sober day I found that the thing to do. Finding a street close to the palace had me sipping on some nice draft beer, it wasn't a livener because I wouldn't be going out that night, it was night to re-tox though. I saw many ladies pass by me who were wearing Hanbok dresses, talking of the Hanbok, I found a lovely little one at Anguk Station. It was about ten pounds and in good quality for the girls in my class to wear. Getting real I was going to return to the palace because it was a place that deserved a clear perspective. My first day in Seoul had not caught me by surprise, work had been much, drink was the plan. I needed to see more!

Getting closer back to Anguk station was the plan, finding Yulgok-ro Sam 3-gil in the process was lovely, it was somewhere that I had wanted to see. Unknowingly being inside Seoul's Bukchon Hanbok Village set me up, named after the streets for some reason I am not sure? The shops and feel of that cute street had me in my feelings for sure, I felt that holidays should be spent outside China since that chilled out moment, the mayhem had left me for once, something didn't feel right but it was alright. At first I was looking for Gyeongbukgong Palace, something somewhere told me that I wasn't going to be entertaining anything serious. Seeing the sunset happening soon I made my way to Myeongdong to see a million lights. The subway lines became easier at point because I didn't entertain the different diversions, I wanted to see what Myeongdong had to offer. The day had been long but I knew there would be one more element that championed a previous travel prediction blog. Very that!

Arriving into a million lights, I was looking for a scene that I had seen online, but in those situations a preconceived view sometimes looks better or worse compared to the actual sight. I felt like I was in a Channel 4 interval, those neon Korean lights projected money alone, it had some of the magnets for double the price but I had made the right more to find the market that served me the cheaper price. I shunned the top price foods within the tourist appropriated Myeongdong area, it was a place I had original planned to stay but the hangover made the move more than justifiable. Did someone say Miniso? Those kind of shops were in an abundance, but they were without that famous red logo seen at all. Those glittering lights were the entertainment for me that night, I wasn't feeling well at that point, but I had done the honest things during that early morning period. Myeongdong's food prices had me saying good-bye!

The day had been long and I had seen a lot compared to the early morning arrival back to my hostel, that morning coffee call saved my day for certain. The dawn saw a lot of madness for a great reason but I got things together to see the city, getting my life! Dongdaedon Market supplied all I needed for the new Korean items for my October English corner centrepieces, getting to Anguk I found the perfect Hanbok Korean dress that wasn't from the streets with a tourist mind. I wasn't going out that night because I was feeling badder than bad, I needed to sleep in order to get through another twenty-four hours of my South Korean trip in Seoul. Making my way back to Itaewon, the day had been full-bodied and for that I was thankful for that. I needed to charge my phone and sleep because I felt horrible. Considering hungover state, I carried on with my day. Me and Seoul needed to have words! My first full day in South Korea had been everything and more! I wanted a kebab and to sleep!

A Kebab for Tea?

Joseph Harrison

Friday, 26 October 2018

Flying High... Korean Air!

During my time in China both times round I haven't taken many international flights at all, October brought my second short haul flight outside of the Chinese Mainland since hopping down to Hong Kong to catch my Manchester bound flights. Korean Air kickstarted my five days in Seoul with a seamless ninety minute flight over to South Korea's capital. Oh, dreamy cabin crew! 

Capital Airport's Terminal 2 became a familiar place, I had only just landed six days previous from my Yinchuan weekend, leaving the Domestic check-in and departures behind me for the internationals felt amazing! Check-in was a breeze, no bags were checked-in because I was travelling light with cabin baggage only! Jetting off to Seoul Gimpo International Airport with the national airline of South Korea felt correct. Breezing through check-in it was like immigration knew my name for all the right reasons, my exit forms were completed and before I knew I had boarded and was sat down onboard my Korean Air Boeing 777-300 series aircraft. That baby blue coloured aircraft landed bang-on time without a second to spare I saw all the ground services snap into action, I wanted to be in the land of Kimchi and K-Pop without any delays whatsoever! That National Day holiday had arrived and quite frankly I wanted to fly!

Boarding was fine, brandishing my passport I was confident no last minute visa checks would need to be made, South Korea allows British passport holders visa free entry for 90 days. Settling into my Korean Air aisle seat I looked up to find a dreamy male member of the cabin handing out landing cards, of course I needed one of those! With a delicious view and a fully boarded flight, it was time for Korean Air to roll out their great service during a short haul flying experience. Those pre-flight checks were completed fine, for those passengers who didn't speak English or Korean they had one crew member to help but for me it was cool. Could I just take one more minute of your time? Like, I needed to quench a thirst! I didn't want to waste anytime, getting into a Korean drama episode was the right thing to do, the first episode of 'Defendant' started my Korean Air experience fine with a delectable leading role, I was captivated for the whole first instalment. Yes, I focussed on my shows! 

Back to the flight, the terribly congested taxiways of Beijing Capital International Airport were no longer a problem, because my flight climbed higher into the skies towards Seoul, South Korea. Lunch was served within a blink of an eye, choosing the chicken option was the best one. Served with garden vegetables and rice, the chicken tasted like it was in a black bean sauce, choosing a CASS Korean Beer to wash it all down wasn't a decision made lightly, I was on my holidays after all! Getting deep into the first episode of 'Defendant' it just got weirder and weirder as every minute went past, I wanted to embrace the 'Korean Drama' part of going to Korea because it just seemed like the done thing. Lunch was lovely and the service was really efficient, we had almost crossed the Yellow Sea as the meal service concluded. The flights arrival into Seoul's Gimpo International Airport wouldn't be long away. Go, go K! 

From a sweet birthday scene to the leading man going insane in his maximum security cell, I was done with Korean Dramas by that time! Switching on the K-Pop was an automatic reflex before my Korean Air flight would begin its decent into Gimpo. The range of K-Pop music within the Korean Air in-flight entertainment personal system was quite good, the flight wasn't long at all, I was able to find some suitable tunes to set the mood for my Korean holiday. I didn't need anything else, the crew were great considering the flight was short and the food was served with real cutlery for economy class. The crew were quite camera shy because I usually ask for a photo to feature in my 'Flying High...' blog series, I was beginning to think if all East Asian airlines had painfully shy cabin crew? Nevertheless, the disembarkation wasn't a mad thing, usually Chinese passengers get their belongings together before the plane reaches the gate! Korean logic had kicked in, no craziness was tried that time! 

Landing into Seoul was seamless, disembarked and ready to find the Seoul Subway I had some things to take care of first. Getting all of my landing cards in order was the one, going back into China is fine for me because its like a second home but I hadn't gone to any of the other Asian countries since moving to China, I was on my guard. No passport stamps in my new passport, I got a receipt that entitled 90 days of entry to South Korea without any issues, I do love being British sometimes! Making my way down the escalators into the baggage reclaim hall reminded me that I was in Asia's cosmetic surgery capital and possibly the most looks conscious place ever! The wide-eyed advertisements didn't shock me, but it was made to see every possible advertising space used for cosmetics and plastic surgery, even the first views from the immigration clearance was for a plastic surgery hospital! I was so ready to embrace everything!

Korean Air hadn't made any mistakes, things had gone well and I was appreciative for that alone! Getting to the subway at Gimpo Airport was so easy, buying a travel card was fine. Halfway to Itaewon, I couldn't believe how seamless my whole experience had been from taking off in Beijing to arriving and clearing immigration in Seoul, South Korea. Korean Air were amazing, yes that dreamy cabin crew member set the tone for the deliciousness I saw in Seoul. The in-flight entertainment was adequate for the time of the flight and the food served within the constraints of the flights was nice. I would definitely fly with Korean Air again, the question does beg if Asiana Airlines match up to their Korean Air leader? Let's just say my Korean Air flights won't be the only ones to the Peninsula right now. Nonetheless, I arrived in one piece and on the way back it was a blessing in disguise that return flight took off on time before the savage weather dealt a beating to South Korea! Yes!

높이 날아라!

Joseph Harrison