13 December 2008

Seoul: Finishing up

I may still be in South Korea, but all my activities have come to an end. All I need to do now is to take my flight back to the US.

Again, no photos, as I'd rather wait until I reach a place where my Internet connectivity is not censored.

I first did my final meditation session, where I had a final opportunity to swap insights with fellow practitioners. I'll miss them - and from the master, I've been given instructions on what to do after my return home (keep in touch with him from time to time for progress, and eventually work out a timetable for my eventual return to Seoul). I gave everyone a pleasant surprise by announcing the retirement of my BMW and the purchase of a Hyundai Genesis.

(And speaking of the car, the purchasing service vows to continue looking for a red car, per my request, though I also let them know that if a red one can't be found, I'll accept silver. I also forwarded a detailed description of my BMW for a preliminary trade-in value assessment, though the exact value must be finalized at the actual trade-in.)

I started the rest of my day by first heading for Ojang-dong District, just south of the National Medical Center and very near Dongdaemun Stadium subway station. The district has tons of cold buckwheat noodle (naengmyon) restaurants. Naengmyon is native to North Korea, and there are two varieties: Hamhung (normally spicy) and Pyongyang (normally watery). Ojang-dong serves the Hamhung variety, which really is my parents' native food due to their own origins from the Hamhung area; in fact, both their families frequent a particular restaurant in Ojang-dong, and I made sure to insist on that specific place, where I could get my early lunch for 7,000 won.

I then picked up Line 2 on the subway system, which runs under Euljiro; instead of actually riding the train, however, I decided to save money and use the underground shopping mall that extends the entire length of Euljiro and connects the stations, built by Seoul Metro in 1983 when that section of the subway was opened. It kept me warm, while allowing me to still observe mom-and-pop stores, and even under-renovation tourism promotion halls for some rural jurisdictions. Again, due to the Republican city government's initiatives, the mom-and-pops are under threat, as they are in all similar underground malls citywide.

I ducked into Lotte Department Store's main location at Euljiro 1-ga, for a look at its duty free section. Didn't find too much in the way of fashion goods, as I am too much of a cheapskate to spend money on anything more expensive than Coach. Forget Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, and the like! I did find and purchase a late-model Canon digital camera, with 10 million pixels, complete with a 2GB (that's a thousand times the brain capacity of South Korea's President) memory card and carrying case, for just over $200 US. (Duty-free shops tend to charge in US dollars.) My Pentax is fine, but the Canon has anti-shake, improved night images, and other features that I can use for my future photo uploads. Most importantly, Canon is named after Kannon, the Japanese name of my transgender matron saint, so this camera will be as appropriate as my two Kwan Yin statues and my upcoming Hyundai. The camera will be held for me at the airport, so that I can pick it up after clearing immigration.

I also got to explore Lotte's new expansions - Avenue L, which has lots of high-end fashion and accessories, and Lotte Young Plaza, which is more casual (but despite the name, still mature-looking enough for me). The Lotte Young Plaza is a quite cramped building, formerly used by the now-nonexistent Midopa Department Store for ages, though it's nicely remodeled. I liked them all. At the Young Plaza, I got to try out the newest rendition of Apple's MacBook, which will make a great replacement for my current heavy Windows laptop. (And yes, its Internet connection, not hacked by the bastards, ran just fine.)

Now that I had killed some time window-shopping and actual shopping, I tried to zero out my T-Money by trying to add an amount that included hundreds and tens; that wasn't allowed, I was told. I could only add in 1,000-won increments, so it looks like I'll have to go home with about 330 won on the card. At least, I could use the balance to make a few phone calls at the airport before boarding my flight. Combined with the 2,500-won price of the card itself, T-Money had cost me 2,830 won in total on top of my actual fares, but it saved me much, much more by offering 100-won discounts on every ride and free transfers to/from buses. And when I come back to Seoul, I can simply re-charge and re-use the card, so the money is not wasted at all. (I can try to get back the money by returning the card, but a fee applies for refunds on non-defective cards, so it's not worth the trouble.)

I proceeded to Hongdae, traveling 6 stops on Line 2 and enduring some Christian missionaries. I finally had an excellent Greek dish at Hongdae. Sure, I had pork souvlaki, which never happens in Greece due to the Orthodox prohibition on pork; however, the proprietor had frequented Toronto's Greektown and learned his trade there.

I could've returned to Seongnam, but decided to extend my activities even further. I took Line 2, intending to take it halfway around the Circle Line to COEX Mall. However, as empty seats were not popping up, I gave up after only six stops, switching to the parallel Line 7 at Daerim. South of the river, Line 7 serves as the overcrowded Line 2's relief line, though it itself can get overcrowded. (Line 7, as it runs northeast-southwest, can also relieve Lines 1 and 4.) Surely, the upcoming privately-funded Line 9, which will relieve both Lines 2 and 7, can't open soon enough!

Line 7 brought me within a half-mile of COEX Mall. I started by visiting a nice puzzle store, then the American Apparel store, and when I spotted another nice duty free shopping area, I went in - but didn't have much fun. But when I spotted the Nintendo store, I had to stop and take a look. I ended up getting a Nintendo DS Lite, with six Korean-market games to go with it (one of them is a quiz program dealing with trivia that most South Koreans ought to know - sure, most of it is beyond me, but I'll definitely have a learning experience), after making sure that the South Korean-market DS would accept US-market games. I can finally put away my aging, low-resolution Game Boy Advance, as its cartridges also work on the DS. The only complication is that the box only contains a 220V power adapter for South Korean and European duty; fortunately, stopping at a Nintendo retailer in the US (that's most major electronics stores) will be all I will need in order to obtain a North American 110V adapter, for $10 at most. For now, the console and the six games have set me back about 360,000 won - or $240 US.

Now, I need to pack, and look forward to taking the spirit of my past three months in South Korea and Hong Kong, onto my everyday American life. I do need to start watching my cash flow, however; between my South Korean road trip, my Hong Kong visit, my gambling losses, my impulse purchases today, my new car, and the MacBook, I am spending too much money for comfort.