Saturday, January 2, 2016

5 years later - Korea Adventures part 1

As mentioned in the title, it had been five years since my last visit to South Korea. The first was mainly for my sister's wedding in Gwangju but we had the chance to travel to Jeju Island (stinking hot but beautiful island with awesome food), the lovely quaint village of Seoshin, an unnamed beach where we harvested lots of oysters, and Seoul for the last two days of our trip.

This time around, I'm here for work in the South Western side of Seoul so I decided to spend most of my time exploring the metropolitan area. The stay lasted 11 weeks so I was determined to make the most of it!

Week 1:
Yangpyeong-dong | Yeongdeungpo | Company

I arrived early on a Sunday morning at Incheon. I paid for a Korean sim card online and collected it at the airport because I need internet in my life. The HR director of my company came to pick me up and dropped me off at my residence in Yangpyeong-dong. They had organised a large studio room for me with all the necessary facilities (thank you washing machine). For the love of god; I got bright PINK bed sheets...

Lovely studio - I covered up the abominable bedsheets with the doona in this photo

I wasn't familiar with the area I was staying in so I decided to hop on a train to see where it would take me. Subway station was a mere 3 minutes' walk, got off the train after two stops cause it seemed hustly bustly enough for me to find food (Yeungdeungpo-market). I found a small fast food shop which served soondoobu jigae; that staved off my jet lag for a while.

Nourished for the afternoon, I walked some ways and saw the massive Times Square building. I needed some toiletries for the residence and was hoping to find a supermarket in there... E-mart was closed :( It was just one of those Sundays. But no matter, I found a small sundry shop on the way back to the subway station and bought all the necessaries.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw something that piqued my interest, Underground shopping centre. Rightio, let's investigate:


Jumpers and jackets heaven, and really cheap too! I later found out that this was one of two of the famous underground shopping areas in Seoul, the other was at the Gosok Express Bus Terminal. I knew I didn't pack nearly enough warm clothes from Melbourne for the duration of my stay. My reasoning was that nothing from down under would save me from the dry freezing winters in Seoul so I might as well invest in some heat tech after arriving.

Jetlag finally crept up on me late in the arvo, so I headed back to the studio, unpacked and cleaned up, then rested a bit before grabbing a quick bite at a japanese restaurant nearby. I expected the coming week to be pretty intense!

Nice and crispy tonkatsu before starting my work week

My HR director told me to meet him at the lobby of the residence at 7.30am the next morning, but I misunderstood it for the lobby at the company (heh... I'm an idiot). The first train ride to work was interesting, I had to transfer from line 5 to line 1 and the subway stations are so much bigger than the ones in Melbourne. I knew I was on the right platform, but there were four different trains leaving it and I didn't know which ones went to the company! Turns out I could board 3 of the 4, and I had missed all 3 while I was working out what to do (I'm an idiot...)

My first week, orientation week of sorts, was for me to get my bearings, meet and greet everyone, and learn the company history, procedures, and products. I was introduced to 3 teams closest to my line of work: R&D, overseas marketing, and product planning. At the end of the week, HR asked me to decide which of the first two teams I would like to work with. My head was saying R&D all the way since I'm from a mechanical engineering background, but for some reason, I decided with the overseas marketing team. I don't know what it would have been like working with the R&D team, but I don't regret my decision at all. The OMT is a small group of 11 people, and they are the nicest people I could ever hope to work with.

Interesting cultural differences at work:
- people tell you their age, marital status, and family status as part of the meet and greet
- more respect should be shown to colleagues older and/or of higher job seniority to you
- bonding between colleagues is very important
- they address seniors via their job title rather than by name
- everyone eats fast
- workers from the production line (mostly ladies) run to lunch (I still find this amusing)
- you should say yes to an offer of coffee/drinks
- you get lots of yummy snacks from colleagues (you should do your best to return the gesture)
- say your good mornings to your team when you arrive at work and your goodbyes before you leave

Cafeteria lunch - free, delicious, and healthy; we get brekky and dinner too!

Week 2:
Sinseol-dong | Sindorim

For my first jetlag-free weekend I decided to go antiques hunting. My first stop was at the Seoul Folk Flea market in Sinseol-dong. Two floors of vintage clothes, bags, bits and bobs, furniture, antiques, you name it! There were lots war memorabilia as well. I was interested mainly in smaller items, but if I had a shipping container bound for Melbourne I would have carted in all the gorgeous cabinets. I found myself 3 antique brass (bronze?) locks, an old cow bell, and a tiny wooden kettle sculpture. I later told my colleagues about the locks and they were like 'Pfft! I can pick those with a chopstick!'... BUT THEY ARE SO PRETTY!

There was so much more that I wanted to buy but some of the items were a tad pricey (vintage wire crate for AUD170). And I found some beautiful seashells that were unfortunately not for sale; they were the owner's private collection. Oops! I had a delicious eel set for lunch, and then hotteok for dessert.

 Too many goodies concentrated under one roof!

 Glorious food

A wrong turn trying to get back to the station took me to a shallow stream with lots of people hanging out under the bridge. It was actually really nice to relax there with the pigeons, a cool drink, and the calming sound of running water. Aaand I finally found an e-mart :P

Cheonggyecheon (?) if I am not mistaken

Small purchases - I love that cow bell at the top...

On Sunday, my sister was in town to visit her in-laws with Alice so I was very glad to see some familiar faces after a week on my own in a foreign country. We went to Pororo park within the Hyudai Department store in Sindorim for the kids to play in. I found myself a winter coat to help me survive the winter in the department store! On the way out, I stumbled upon a live orchestra performance in the park next to the department store. It was a good weekend!

Enjoyed the music for some good 45 minutes before it got dark and cold

My first official week of work was good, I got to meet everyone in the team at the weekly team meeting, I got my desk, and got assigned to some projects and research work. Lunch at the cafeteria was at 12pm everyday, then a nice relaxing 40 minute stroll next to the Anyang stream. Unless Mr Chan was with us, in which case the walk became more of a jog xD

Photos taken about 3 weeks apart - strolling in the shade of the trees along the Anyang stream

Week 3:
Gwanghwamun | Hongdae | Yeouido | Buam-dong | Namsan | Banpo Dae Gyo | Farewell Henrik

Another weekend, another flea market! Although I was disappointed to find that the Gwanghwamun market wasn't open that day. Having said that, the place was gorgeous. Stepping out from the subway, you are greeted with cityscape surrounded by mountains.

 King Sejong statue sitting proudly in the center of Gwanghwamun square

 Found this symbol in the Gwanghwamun subway station

I had a quick bite to eat then headed to Hongdae to check out its craft market. It's next to Hongik University, famously known as the best architecture and design institute in South Korea. I had to walk past the University to a small park where lots of small tables were set up with mostly students, selling their hand crafted products. And their wares were worth squeezing through a tough crowd for!

 Hongdae market

What I was most excited to see were artists painting portraits for 10000won (roughly AUD13). I had to get one done, I have always drawn other people but I have never had anyone else draw a caricature of me. I waited in line for 40 minutes to get mine done, and the artist didn't disappoint! The guy finished painting in less than 10 minutes.

 He's got some of my features but made me look way too Korean LOL

I decided to check out Yeouido Park to end the day. It was a well organised park, and it was nice and quiet in the forest paths.

Yeouido Park

The day after was a planned outing with Jungmin. He is also part of the graduate program of the company and was supposed to be in Australia but his assignment was interrupted because he had to be urgently sent to the US to complete another high priority project. He was back in Seoul for a week and promised to take me out on the weekend before he left for the US.

We visited Buam-dong, Namsan, and Banpo Dae Gyo. Beautiful scenery, great weather, great food, and great company. I was sorry to see him leave for the US so soon. But that means that when he goes back to Melbourne to complete his assignment, I will be there to take him around!

Buam-dong - quaint little village surrounded by hills - Jaha Sonmandoo restaurant for lunch

 Sanmotoonge Gallery & Cafe - decent coffee and exceptional cakes

 Easy hike up to the base of Namsan tower

View of sunset in a restaurant at the top of Namsan

 View near Banpo Dae Gyo

My third week at work started without a hitch. My colleagues were giving me suggestions on places to visit for the coming weekend and I asked about Seoraksan, which is about 3 hours East of Seoul on the other side of the peninsula. They gave me the thumbs up as it was probably the best time to catch the red and yellow autumn leaves. The problem was getting the bus tickets since it was peak season, and the buses would surely be full unless I booked a seat in advance. I either had to go to the bus terminal on the other side of the city to buy it first, or book it online from their all Korean website. Thank goodness for Mr Danny and Ms Jenny for getting me the ticket *yay* Next I booked a shared hostel room with the House Hostel in Sokcho recommended by my aunt and uncle who stayed there 5 years ago.

On the night before I left for Seoraksan, the company held a farewell party for Henrik, who was being relocated to Japan. He was the youngest member of the OMT and he was very very popular. There was lots of Korean BBQ, lots of drinks and games, and lots of food after all that. It was fun! Henrik was sorely missed after he left :'(

Week 4:
Sokcho | Seoraksan

To be continued in the next post...

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