Wine away train, never leaving Seoul
If you get the title’s reference to the Soul Asylum song, then kudos to you!
Two weeks ago, Zach and I joined some GEPIK friends from UW-Madison (Scott, Soren, and Aaron) for a wine train trip. The name of the trip pretty much explains what we did… we sat on a train and drank wine. If that sounds awesome, it’s because it is. We literally popped open our first bottle of wine at 10am and finished off the last one at 7pm. Granted, there was some time in the middle for other activities. The day started out very early. We had to meet the group (Discover Korea – which is changing to When In Korea or WINK) at 8:30am at Seoul Station. This means Zach and I left around 7:00am in order to get there on time. Once we met the rest of the group (about 30 or so other foreigners), we boarded the train. The train is specially designed as a wine and ginseng train so its sole purpose is to liquor people up and get them excited with aphrodisiacs. Okay, maybe that’s not the real purpose of the train, but it’s a great combination of products they serve their passengers! We tried 4 different wines and ate a lot of snacks (ginseng snacks and cracker type snacks). The wines were a white, a dry red, a sweet red, and a plum wine. When I tried to figure out what kind of white and dry wines were being served to us – I was met with the names “cult wines” instead of Chardonnays, Merlots, etc. Okay, cult wine it is. The dry red was our favorite and we drank that the rest of the trip down to the winery. The first leg of the train ride was about 3-3.5 hours so we had plenty of time to mingle with the other foreigners (who came from all over – including South Africa, Australia, the UK, etc). After a few hours of drinking everyone was quite friendly and we even had some good music playing for everyone to enjoy.
We arrived at the train station (Daejeon Station) and boarded a bus for a short ride to the winery. Once we were there we joined a group that was travelling in from an airbase somewhere in Korea. We all ate some delicious Korean food and drank some more wine. After lunch, we walked downstairs to an area reserved for “wine foot baths.” This sounds weird, and that’s because it is. You basically sit around large barrels (10 people per barrel) and soak your feet in a mixture of warm wine and water. Zach and I managed to find some “individual” baths (the idea of sharing a foot bath with strangers is pretty gross) and we soaked our feet for about 15 minutes. After the foot bath we had a little while to walk around so we “self-toured” the winery.
Then it was onto the bus again. This time we were headed to a ginseng festival taking place in Geumsan. This area is known for its ginseng production and they hold a festival every year. The ride was a little longer – close to 45 minutes, so we all sang norebang on the bus (karaoke). It was a lot of fun, though the 5 of us were seated in the very back and the bus was weaving up and down hills so I was feeling a little motion sick. When we got to the festival we walked around and sampled various ginseng products… we also found an area where children were sitting at little desks eagerly answering questions and getting candy as a reward. We joined in a for a little while, and luckily our guide (and new friend) Jihee was there to translate for us.
After that point we didn’t get much further because a camera crew found Zach and Scott and began to exploit them to the best of their ability. They filmed them trying candy, looking at ginseng alcohol, and then took 15 minutes to film them making the ginseng alcohol. Jihee was under the impression that they should be “paid” for their camera time (I agreed), and she eventually managed to score Scott and Zach free bottles of ginseng alcohol (soju with ginseng roots in it). I did not have to go through this puppet show because I’m just another Asian face in the crowd. :) You can actually see their picture in this article: http://m.joongdo.co.kr/jsp/article/article_view.jsp?pq=201110230119 I don’t know what the article says, perhaps something along the lines of, “Look at these silly white guys.”
After the ginseng festival we climbed back on the bus for another long, swerving bus ride… though we sang the whole way back to the train station so we were entertained. The ride back was in the “ginseng” part of the train which was just like the “wine” part of the train but with less fancy chairs. We drank a couple more bottles of dry red “cult” wine and had some snacks. The end of the ride turned into a dance party (dancing on a train is fun). We arrived in Seoul around 8pm and met some friends for dinner. We brought along our new friend, Jihee and ate food, went to clubs, and visited a hookah lounge. This was all in Hongdae, which is a popular place for young people (Korean and foreign). Now, the subways in Korea close at 11:30pm so you have 2 options when you go out. You can leave early and miss out on some fun times… or you can stay out until the subways open at 5:30/6:00am. Well, we opted for option number 2 (actually there is the option of taking a cab home, but that cost about $100 so it’s really not a smart option) and stayed out all night. We got back home around 7am and the entire next day was wasted sleeping. I never pulled an all-nighter in college. The closest I got was staying up until 3:30am to finish a Psych Portfolio that I had already been working on for a month. I managed to not only stay awake, but really enjoy the time out. Bar time in the states is 2am. At 2am in Hongdae, people are arriving at clubs. The streets are FILLED with people (who are stranded in Seoul until the subways start running) and there is a lot going on. It’s hard to be tired when you can sing norebang with your friends at 3am and get into clubs for free because you are a foreigner. I did, however, pay the whole next week with my messed up sleep schedule.
So, the next weekend rolled around (this past weekend) and it was Halloween weekend. Halloween is a brand new concept to Koreans, and I honestly think that it’s the foreigner population in places like Itaewon and Hongdae that introduced the “holiday.” When I asked my students yesterday what day it was, I only got “Monday” and “October thirty one” as answers. None of them remembered (or knew) that October 31st is Halloween. Whether or not Korean celebrate the holiday, Zach and I were going to dress up and head into Seoul! We decided to do another couple costume (hey guys, remember when we were God and an angel… or better yet, John Lennon and Yoko Ono??). This year we dressed up in 1960′s Korean high school uniforms. We managed to find a costume shop in the basement of some building in Seoul… it looked like it was/is a prop store. We went out to dinner afterwards at a Johnny Rockets and had cheeseburgers and milk shakes. It was a delicious taste of home. :) Then on Saturday we headed into Seoul in the early afternoon and met our friend Jihee to do some sightseeing. We wore our costumes so we wouldn’t have to change later, but I think that might have been a mistake. We were stared at EVERYWHERE we went. People were not shy about it either, some were literally pointing and laughing. Luckily, Zach and I were half expecting the attention so we didn’t mind. We had our pictures taken with quite a few kids (high school age) and once we were at the prison we were mistaken for actors and mobbed by a group of teenagers.
As for the prison, the place was really depressing. It’s called Seodaemun Prison and is near Insadong in Seoul. It reminded me of visiting the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. A lot of people died in this prison (due to torture) for fighting for democracy in Korea. One of the most “famous” people killed here was a girl named Yoo Gwan sun who led movements against the Japanese Imperialists and died from fierce torture at the age of 16. It seemed appropriate to be there on Halloween as the place is probably haunted. We get caught up in the modernity of Korea and its easy to forget how recent these types of things happened in Korea. The prison was open until 1987… a year after I was born.
After we visited the prison we went to Insadong, ate some food, and did a little shopping/sightseeing. Insadong likes to keep things “Korean” so all the stores have their names written in Korean. EVEN THE STARBUCKS!! It’s the ONLY Starbucks in the world where the name is written in the country’s native language (a language other than English of course). We also got some traditional snacks and candies. From there we headed to Hongdae to meet our friend Saebom for drinks, dinner, and a Halloween party at a club. On the way we ran into some other GEPIK teachers from UW-Madison and invited them to join us. It ended up being a repeat of the weekend before – staying up until 6am going to clubs, the hookah lounge, and singing norebang. The only difference was the company with us and the fact that most of us were in costume. :) We had a lot of fun, but I think we’ll take it easy the next few weekends. This weekend we are headed into Chuncheon for some Dak Galbi and then we have friends coming to visit us in Hopyeong!