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Seoul 101:Noraebang, Insadong & Cheongyecheon

June 6, 2010

I realise it is really tedious to blog everyday but I’m trying. Have gotten back so late the past few days that I shower, facebook a bit, read Cosmo and hit the bed like a dead log falling unto the earthy soils of the Amazon.

So I met a few people at Orientation, and for the first time realized that I was quite (surprisingly) effectively bilingual when placed in a hot seat – I had to constantly translate English to Chinese and vice versa between the bunch of new friends I made, all the way through the night because we went out to a noraebang (karaoke room) and took neoprints etc till 10+pm. Made me think that heading to China for study wouldn’t be that bad. Most of my time here, because my Korean is so limited, I converse in Chinese with the other Chinese students I have met here. On Orientation day, I met 2 Chinese, 1 Hong Konger, 1 Italian and 2 Korean-Americans – a pretty diverse crowd.

Bowon, the Korean-American who grew up in the Philippines and is now in Princeton, knew of some good noraebang in the Gangnam area called su-noraebang, so we headed there. It was pretty cheap, only 4,400 won per hour for each of us and smoke-free (thank goodness).

Terry saying hi in the noraebang while Bowon chooses songs.

All of us (apart from Terry who's behind the camera)

It must have been a really intense song!

The next day, I went with Silvia, the Italian girl on a trip around Insadong. Wang Fang, Silvia’s room mate showed me a picture of a multi-storey complex so we went hunting for Insadong the building. Only after asking a kindly gentleman did we realize that the streets full of quaint little shops and milling people was the Insadong street market! D’OH. And all the while we were wondering -where in the world is the building? And why are there so many people? looool.

Insadong street capture

They had an awesome free hugs session in the middle of Insadong. Considering Koreans are more reserved, it was really amusing to see how one would hug the person in the middle and stand there looking mortified with the placard before someone else came along to relief them of their hugging duties. Tonnes of people were standing around taking pictures and giggling.

This girl was standing around mortified before the guy came to 'rescue' her. It probably made his day because...

...which guy would have hugs from 2 pretty girls in a day? Look at the glee in his face!

And the picket gets passed on and on 🙂

And on and on...

The free hugs scene from a bird's eye view.

There were also demonstrations on North Korean violence.

And we finally stumbled upon that building that Wang Fang showed us! It was lined with quaint little shops selling traditional ceramics and jewelry, many of which did not allow photography so I also managed to get pictures of the complex itself. I also had a cold Korean traditional drink called shikhae, a kind of non-alcoholic drink made of sweet rice.

The multi-storey complex of shops!

The view from inside the complex 🙂

Skewered potatoes! Curly fry? hehe

Overly enthusiastic Turkish ice-cream seller who jokingly went "BAD ITALY BAD SINGAPORE" while thrusting that giant metal rod at us when we declined to buy his ice cream.

One trend I commonly see that I don’t get is how men carry their girlfriend’s/wife’s handbags. I have very strong opinions about this, even before I came to Korea. It completely emasculates the poor guy. But the alarming thing is that, over here, I would say nearly 100% of all the couples I’ve observed have the man carry the purse for the woman, along with all the shopping bags. I thought it was only Korean men, but I saw an American guy carrying his Korean girlfriend’s handbag on the jihakchol yesterday. Forgive me, but it’s a lady’s bag for a reason. It makes the man look strangely effeminate!

Anyway, enough about handbags and back to our adventure in the city. We headed to Cheongyecheon, a 6km long stream (oh my goodness, I just wiki-ed that. Silvia and I initially wanted to walk all the way to the end because we didn’t know where the stream was heading to. Thank goodness we didn’t!) which cost 900 million to build and opened only recently in 2005, it channels water in the Hanyang river which then all goes into the Yellow Sea. It’s a symbolic stream because Yi Myungbak wanted Seoul to become more eco-friendly, and this was a giant step in restoring a dried out stream that had laid barren for years. Also, the Han River is the symbolism of life and prosperity in the context of Korea – and a stunning sight to behold. I’ve only seen it from the subway when we are speeding across the river and the setting sunlight glistens the waters but I plan to make a proper trip down and walk along it. 🙂

At the wonderfully scenic chongeychon in the middle of bustling Seoul 🙂

Ajummas crossing the stream!

Happy children playing with the water, completely oblivious to this nosey photographer behind them 🙂

Father and daughter strolling down the banks of the stream.

View of the stream from above.

An ajosshi dance party in the subway station.

On our way back to SNU, there was a huge commotion in the subway station and I realized it was an ajosshi dance party, complete with saxaphone player and some ajummas dancing around also! An ajosshi saw me snapping away with my camera and came around, grabbed my arm (I swear I was about to get scolded. I even prepared my apology speech), and dragged me to what he deemed the ‘prime spot’ on an elevated platform so I could get a clearer view of the dance party. Then he went back to dancing with his buddies.

Ah, Korea.

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