Goodbye!

My wonderful son escorted me to Incheon Airport so I could catch my flight back. The flight ended up being further delayed and did not leave Seoul until about 3:00AM. He stayed with me on FaceTime up until the flight pushed back! I was still waiting after he had arrived home. Great trip with outstanding hospitality by both my boys who gave me a real locals’ tour and were so impressively living in their respective countries.  It was the trip I wanted to have… and more! DSCN1091

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The flight back was waaaaay quicker than the flight over.I

Videos

Here are a few videos, all shot with my camera …so they are short but sweet. Quality is mediocre…should have shot more!

Royal Palace Changing of the Guard Marching Band.

Trains from the Hoegi Hotel.

About to leave Seoul.

Christopher ordering sushi #1… (surreptitiously filmed–Chris is self conscious about his Japanese and he shouldn’t be!) Because sometimes you want something other than what is on the conveyor belt.

Christopher ordering sushi #2

4:30 pm Chimes as heard from Christopher’s room (to come)

Last evening: Leaving my Soul in Seoul.

It’s been such an awesome trip. I really fell in love with Korea during this trip. It’s such a great place to visit. Very safe, a sophisticated city yet one with its own personality. Cheap everything: food, hotels, clothes. Easy to get around here. I would come back again. My dad had always loved it here and I can see why.

Here we are on the last day and evening.

Kyle in front of his university, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

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Late check out granted by the hotel. Loved this nice place. Only about $35 per night USD.

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Hate to leave…

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Waiting in his dorm room and calling my Mom on FaceTime.

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What, another selfie?”

Among the last meals: Real Deal Katsu.

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This entire meal was 5000 won (about $4.50 USD). No wonder he doesn’t want to come home!

Gyeongbokgung Palace and Royal Museum

As my trip was winding down I was so happy to get a notice of a flight delay of five hours (turned out to be closer to six–my flight, scheduled for 8:45pm, was now pushed back to 3:00am) Arrival time in Kona still the same so it meant I had more time in Korea with Kyle as opposed to Honolulu Airport. Score!

So the morning before my flight, I asked for late check out, granted by the nice people at the Hoegi Coop Residencenear Kyle’s university area. Fun place to stay, and CHEAP… and Kyle took me to Seoul’s ancient palace compound, dating to 1395. From the web site: It was in 1395, three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded by King Taejo (Yi Seong-gye), when the construction of the main royal palace was completed after the capital of the newly founded dynasty moved from Gaeseong to Seoul (then known as Hanyang). The palace was named Gyeongbokgung, the “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.” With Mount Bugaksan to its rear and Mount Namsan in the foreground, the site of Gyeongbokgung Palace was at the heart of Seoul and, indeed, deemed auspicious according to the traditional practice of geomancy.

I like that word: Geomancy! In any event, as I understand it, the palace compound was destroyed by Japanese aggressors twice over the centuries, most recently, during WW2. Through grants and fundraising it is being restored to its original splendor.

The day may look sunny but it was about 25 F air temperature, with winds sending the temp down further. FREEZING. As it were. The location of the palace is central Seoul, surrounding on three sides by mountains to protect from invaders and the city on the other side. There is a stunning national museum as well. It was one of my favorite things we did in Seoul!We arrived just as they were changing the guard! Very cool, even better than London. Warning: Lots of photos ahead!

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Requisite cheesy photos allowed standing with the guard once the Guard had changed. 🙂

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It may not seem so but it was FREEZING! One of the coldest days we had in Seoul.

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Radiant floor heating (very efficient and comfortable) is a tradition in Korea. This is a shot of the opening to the basement fire pits which they would use to heat the palace rooms. My hotel had radiant heating too. If it works, why change it!

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This little house was the concubine’s quarters. I’m guessing no one escaped from there!

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There was an endless amount of buildings!

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These are the royal kimchee pots.

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Above: This is SK’s equivalent to our White House, located across the street from the palace compound.

In the compound is also this wonderful palace museum. The car was purchased from Ford by one of the emperors and restored.

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Kimcheegon… again.

Here’s that great authentic place again in Kyle’s university area. The kimcheegon was so good I wanted to go back so Kyle obliged. It’s below street level and has some old-timey Korean vocal music playing when you walk in.

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And because this blog insists on making the first photo small (can’t figure it out and don’t want to mess with it any longer), here’s that same photo larger. (You can click on all photos, by the way, to make them larger.) Last photo shows the place looking out toward the street.

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The ambiance and decor here was SO COOL. See photo below. That’s the owner behind the counter cooking up our kimcheejon.

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When the kimcheegon pancake arrived, we devoured it. It’s also served with a delectable tofu broth. Because Kyle considers it an “appetizer,” we then went to the Korean BBQ place (third time there) and later, had a waffle with vanilla topping on the walk home. It was really really REALLY cold…down in the 20s at night with wind chill making it lower.  Walking back to Hoegi from here (only about 10 minutes) can be a deep freeze as the wind blows right in your face. I am so glad once again I had my new cashmere  wool coat–and my new Korean leggings, which I purchased from a street vendor for 6000 won, or about $5. USD. Made of high quality cotton and totally able to hold off the chill. Kyle said I looked like a “Korean college student” in my leggings, coat and “Ugg-like” boots, and if that is true, the college students know how to dress for winter.

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Back in Seoul.

Christopher stayed with us at the Fussa hotel on the last night so we could be sure to get back to Narita Airport in time for our flight back to Seoul. Christopher set his iPad alarm on NUCLEAR ALERT so we would be sure to wake up and we all three hit the ceiling when it went off.  That commute would take approximately two hours, although Christopher, with his nerdy train apps, got the time cut down to one hour 36.  He took us as far as the Skyliner which is a fast fast airport train which uses Shinkansun (bullet train) technology. We got to sit in a luxury seat, but the fare was 2400 yen. (about $20USD).  On the way from Fussa however, we got a taste of crammed Tokyo commuter traffic on the subway, which Christopher says he and his friends call a “Hug a Stranger” experience. We have seen a lot of airports this trip, especially Incheon. Plus every time we go in and out of the country we have immigration and customs. Kyle has made 8 airport trips back and forth to Incheon, picking up all of us and taking us, and I have made six. But now that I know the trains I am sure I could get to Kyle’s from the airport should I visit Korea again (a definite.) The metro in Korea is soooooooo slick. New, color coded, easy to follow and CHEAP. Only $4.50 to get to the airport from where Kyle lives, compared to $30 plus to where Chris is in Japan. A trivia fact: I noticed all the subway train cars and escalators and moving walkways in Seoul were made by Hyundai.

Our last night in Tokyo.

After having more sushi, we followed the direction of Kyle’s friend who told us there was an awesome dessert place off a stop like six away from Shinjyuku. Vague directions aside, we did find a place is this upscale-looking local area, after making a stop at a market that could be compared to a Gelsen’s in California. Because the dessert was so pricey, we shared two.

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Christopher said it was gauche to order two desserts and share, as it was not done here. Indeed, the waiter looked startled at our request and didn’t understand it at first.

Next to the dessert, that’s my sparkly wrist bag wherein I kept my Suica card (the Subway pass). You need to beep it at the entry and exit gates of every station so they can deduct what you owe for the ride.

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Shinjyuku Gyoen National Garden

On Tuesday, our last day in Tokyo, Christopher wanted to take us to the Shinjyuku National Garden. This is picked up from the Web site:  Shinjuku Gyoen was constructed on the site of a private mansion belonging to Lord Naito, a “daimyo”(feudal lord) of the Edo era. Completed in 1906 as an imperial garden, it was re-designated as a national garden after the Second World War and opened to the public. With 58.3 ha(144 acres) in size and a circumference of 3.5 km, it blends three distinct styles, French Formal Garden, English Landscape Garden and Japanese Traditional Garden, and is considered to be one of the most important gardens from the Meiji era.

Although it is, of course, still winter, we were able to see some cherry blossoms blooming. I was starting to experience a miserable toothache due to a loosening temporary crown, but fortunately, the waves of pain came and went. I had to dump my hot coffee as anything hot sent me through the roof. I sucked it up though because I did not want to miss a minute of time with the boys.

Here are some pics of the park. I think it was another place that was rebuilt after being destroyed in the air raids on Tokyo in WWII right before the surrender (by the U.S., which is why we did not need to obliterate civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in those horrific attacks). Even in winter the park has a stark beauty.

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After the garden, Kyle had to stop once more for a game of Groove Coaster, while Chris and I waited. Due to something that got under my temporary crown, I was in terrible tooth pain here, and the selfie makes my face look fat! I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to eat, but the pain magically subsided when we got to the sushi restaurant. Thank god.

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A Day in Christopher’s Hometown.

On Monday, we all agreed we were pretty exhausted. After all the travel to and from airports, plus all the walking in Korea and in Tokyo, I couldn’t envision another day of walking. I estimate we must have walked at least ten miles total, maybe more, so far. So we decided to spend a pleasant day just hanging locally in Christopher’s area. As I mentioned, I loved Hitotsubashi-Gakugen, the little residential village by Christopher’s dorm complex. There are some stores, noodle and ramen shops, antique shops and lots of quaint ambiance. I’m kind of surprised how far away the dorms are from the schools. These dorms serve a number of universities, all quite far. You need a bike unless you want to be walking three miles round trip every day with a backpack of books. Christopher says the Japanese have mastered the art of riding a bike with an umbrella in one hand but brave as he is, he won’t try that

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Everyone has a bike here. Chris’s is the black one. Chris’s is so cool I wish he could bring it home! This is such a safe area, you can leave a bike unlocked and no one would dream of stealing it.

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Here’s Christopher on the top floor of his dorm.

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This is Chris waiting to get his hair cut at his local hairdresser called sunrise. It’s very fancy what they do, including giving you a little neck massage and lather up the sides to be shaved with an old fashioned razor.

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Here are some shots of the village about a 7-minute walk from the dorm, called Hitotsubashi-Gakugen. It’s one stop off the Kokobunji line, which means he has to transfer for one stop.

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Yes, I would agree… time to duck in to the odon noodle shop. You can also choose soba noodles. Delish!

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After lunch it’s one stop over to Kokobunji. Christopher explained it is sort of a nightlife district. The places cater to big groups, seating is Japanese style. They also might have karaoke in another room of the same joint.  We wanted to find a place to eat but EVERYTHING in Kokobunji was closed!

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Christopher perusing the Kokobunji places. He says the town comes alive at night. Below is a shot of a spot where Chris and his friends have gone for parties.

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We were bummed stuff was closed because we were sooooo hungry!

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. We went back to Hitotsubashi…. spotting this preschool bus! Come on, that’s cuter than heck!

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This is a little convenience store (seen in back of the bus in blue) where Christopher gets convenience store sushi AND cheap coffee latte!

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I thought everything in Japan was cheap except for the trains! Also we had a favorable exchange rate. A large cafe latte, made perfectly, was only 180 yen.

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Chris wouldn’t DREAM of ordering in English although I discovered the clerk did speak English.

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Afterwards, we came back to his room and hung out, listening for the chimes at 4:30. I took a movie of it and then forgot to turn my recorder off and the camera recorded for 25 minutes, OMG. And making a 3GB file. Waiting for Christopher to edit it for me and then I will post it somewhere.