Sunday, October 5, 2008

Land of the Morning Calm

Hi Everyone!

It was Golden Week in China last week. A national holiday, so Mike and I jumped a plane and took a little trip to Seoul, South Korea. Mike used to travel to South Korea in a previous capacity at Westinghouse and he has friends there. So, he thought it would be great for me to meet them. He was right - it was a great trip!

We took a China Eastern Air Bus to Seoul on Monday evening, September 29th. It's just a short flight - one hour and 45 minutes. It was smooth flying and landing in the Land of the Morning Calm. Here's Mike beside a huge Korean folk drum.

Immigration was easy and fast so after we grabbed some cash (Korean Won) we jumped on a bus we thought was going downtown to the Korea Air Terminal. It stopped at every telephone pole and hotel/apartment building so when we got to the Ramada, we hopped off and grabbed a taxi. Kate got us a great rate at the Renaissance Seoul and we were very impressed. The lobby is spacious and well appointed and the best thing about it was we could drink the water from the tap in the bathroom! We decided to grab something to eat so we went to the Trevi Lounge where there were three Fillipino singers belting out some great tunes, a good club sandwich with a great glass of Savingnon Blanc!

Tuesday morning, Mrs. Yun Hee Lee and Mr. O. H. Park from the Westinghouse Seoul office arrived to take us to the Korean Folk Village before 9 am. We quickly crossed the street to Dunkin Donuts to get an iced coffee and a Boston Creme donut - can you believe it? Another great thing - (I still think about YOU - Jeff Abraham every Friday - this is a little hint only the EDMC staff will know about).

The Korean Folk Village is south of the city about one hour. The roads here are amazingly good. Lots of traffic but nothing like Shanghai. All very orderly and clean. The taxis all have GPS and TV screens in the front of them so you can watch Korean TV. It was cool! The Korean Folk Village reminded me of Williamsburg, Virginia - all the staff were in their traditional Korean costumes and there were different types of houses that you would find in different parts of Korea. I will write more about the Folk Village in another blog. Stay tuned.

Then we went to Itaewon which is a street near the US military base in Seoul that has lots of bars and Western restaurants and little stalls with Korean souvenirs and silk goods, celadon pottery and jewelry stores. Mr. Park and Mrs. Lee took his to a shop in the basement of a building. The woman who owned the shop is going out of business and Mr. Park wanted to buy his wife a Christmas gift. Mike bought me a lovely amethyst pendant, earrings and ring. All are set with an emerald cut stone and the color is amazing. Amethysts are recent finds in Korea - probably within the last twenty years. A man found a mine and didn't know what the purple rocks were. So he sold it and the second man kept it around for a while and then sold it to another man and woman who have now made a killing on the stones.

Then we went to a lovely restaurant called Korea House. Here we met Mr. J.K. Yang for dinner in a small dining room. It was lovely - there were some things I didn't care to try - like the eel - but for the most part, I tried lots of different things. I had some vegetables and bulgogi (bar b q beef), pumpkin porridge, rice (of course) and some great sweetened pecans and sesame appetizers. Then we went to a large auditorium to see some traditional Korean musicians and dancers. Their costumes were truly beautiful and each dancer was more beautiful than the next one. They were all very graceful and the men dancers were very talented. We couldn't take photos here but I did send Kate and my mom and sister some postcards. Please see Mike and I above with the Korean dancers!

Wednesday - October 1st was the Korean National Day. There were military parachutists into the Olympic Stadium about a mile down the road. There was also a martial arts exhibition which reminded me of the Chinese drummers in the Opening Ceremony at the Olympics - complete and utter precision of hundreds of military men and women who performed board breaking and concrete breaking movements. It was very impressive. Then there was a parade of hundreds of military men and women and military equipment down the street in front of our hotel.

On Wednesday morning, we ventured out early after our second Dunkin Donuts experience and walked down the street to the Intercontinental Grande Hotel - Mike used to stay at this hotel during his previous stays in Seoul. It is right next to the Hyundai Department Store that was very nice - although the prices were high and there wasn't anything there I could wear - I won't buy designer fashions and really, I've lost quite a bit but I'm not a size 2 yet! They had a grocery store in the basement of this store and a food court with all kinds of interesting items - wine - chocolate - bakery items - coffees and teas. Very classy place.

Mike made dinner reservations for us at the Sheraton Walker Hill. I know, we've crossed from Marriott to Hilton to Starwood properties and well, you have to see them all to appreciate how lovely they all are.

I truly wanted to go to see Walker Hill. Back in the day, when I worked at Westinghouse for Bill Thornton, he would travel to Seoul quite often to negotiate contracts and when he would return, he would go on and on about the Sheraton Walker Hill hotel. Good food AND a Las Vegas Revue! The dinner was lovely - it was a package deal and it cost us $300 for the dinner and show - yes, it was exorbitant but hell, I'm worth it! Mike and I both had a lovely scallop and salmon appetizer, a nice salad, a fabulous filet that was done perfectly and tasted divine and then a lemon cheesecake for dessert.

And then it was "Onto the show!" It consisted of some traditional Korean dancing - much like the ones we'd seen the day before and then the beautiful show girls. I had to work hard to keep poping Mike's eyes back in their sockets!

There was a magician, and a weird sort of South American guy who had long hair and used some kind of metal balls on strings that he twirled around and hit the floor with. Odd sort of thing, he was. And there were the five Brazilian motorcyclists who road their motorcycles in a metal ball - all five of them at once. It was amazing.

Thursday we went to the DMZ. And for those of you who are young and naive - that is the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. It is a strip of land about one hour north of Seoul that is a "no man's land" with barbed wire and lots of Korean soldiers who patrol. I felt very safe on this tour. There are 153 families who live in this area farming and selling their local produce.

We boarded a bus about 7:30 am with Jason Kim, our tour guide. (I don't think he was related to John Kim - this is a hint for my former Westinghouse colleagues). Then we drove to Imjingak park where we disembarked and got on another larger Greyhound-type bus for the ride to The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel in the administrative district of Panju. This is one of 4 or 5 tunnels that the South Koreans found that were designed to serve as a path for 30,000 North Korean soldiers on their way to Seoul during an invasion. This tunnel is just 52 km away from Seoul. It is 1,635 meters in length and 2 meters in height and width. Mike descended into the tunnel - I chose to stay up. It was hard because he is taller than 2 meters and it was pretty steep.

Off to the Dorasan Station which is a train station situated at the northernmost international train station in South Korea. It was designed to be the symbolic place of division but also the completion of the Seoul-Sinuiju railroad line. After the South Koreans built this beautiful train station, the North Koreans decided they didn't want to play anymore - they would not accept any trains through their country into Siberia where they could link up with other countries - China, Russia, Mongolia and move people into eastern Europe. This is also where sometimes relatives from the North meet their families from the South - those who they have been estranged from due to the Korean conflict.

Then onto the Dora Observatory where we could see over the abyss into North Korea. There were those high powered viewers that you could use to see but you could not take any photos - except from behind "the yellow line". See the photo of Mike and I with a smoggy North Korea in the background. . .

Thursday evening we enjoyed a wonderful Hot Pot Dinner with Yun Hee Lee, her husband, Mr. Park and their lovely 8 year old daughter Rebecca. See photo of us at dinner. . .

Friday was another lovely day - 70's and lots of walking. We decided to go visit the Buddhist Temple near the Intercontinental Hotel. I know you will agree with me that this is a beautiful temple - the colors are so vibrant.
By and large, our short trip to Seoul was both wonderful and truly a pleasure! I'm so glad I went and I'm so glad I finally got to meet the wonderful people in the Westinghouse Korea office in Seoul.
We're back in Shanghai now - living the life and counting down the days (70) until we can see you all again in Chicago - DePaolis cousins (December 12th) and in The Burgh (December 15th). Rita Gismondi has already scheduled Happy Hour for Tuesday the 16th (for me). Mike will stop by the K of C - Penn Allegheny Council 4242 for some much-needed catch-up.
I hope all my EDMC friends can stop by - place to be determined but I bet it will be the Renaissance Hotel (Kate's place) on Sixth Street. I am so looking forward to seeing you all and share some Christmas Cheer! It will truly be a blessing to be back in the Burgh with family and friends.
Until something else exciting happens. . .

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