I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever New Year out of the country. After classes were out on Friday I took a cab with three of my coworkers to Hongdae, an area in Seoul which by taxi was maybe forty-five minutes away. Since we couldn't leave until after work ended at 10:30pm we were making a mad dash to get to a bar somewhere in time for midnight. At quarter to twelve we were on the subway with only one stop to make and at five of we were running down the streets, trying to avoid the enormous patches of black ice that were basically everywhere. Finally we spotted the bar we'd been looking for, ran to the entrance, and right as we got outside it heard everyone inside yell, "HAPPY NEW YEAR!". Honestly all you could do at that point was laugh. It was a valiant effort but I preferred this turn of events anyway, it was more amusing!
So our night finally started at midnight when we arrived and did not end until I slumped back into my apartment at 8am the following morning. We spent part of the night one of the several Ho Bars in Hongdae. There's something like eight of them and I think we were at number three. We were there for a while and after mocking the costumes of a televised K-Pop New Year's concert and meeting up with some more people, we moved over to Zen Bar which I liked a lot because it was slightly similar to a dance club so that was fun for a couple hours. By that point it was close to 6am and so naturally the next place we wound up was Burger King, along with every other foreigner in the vicinity. Apparently people crave french fries here after a night out just as much as back home.
The perk to being out so late is that by then the trains were running again so instead of paying extra for a bumpy cab ride home we just hopped on the subway and after a couple transfers were back in Yeonsu. I went to bed and slept away the first day of 2011 and it was beautiful.
On Sunday I got up and headed to Suwon to check out Hwaseong Fortress. It's in planning excursions like these that the Korea Tourism website (which I have a link to on the right side of this page) is a huge help. I'm only spontaneous to a degree and if I decide to go somewhere I like to get the details beforehand. Most places you would want to visit have a page on the tourism website with info in regards to admission fees, hours, phone numbers to call for English speakers, and how to get there. I keep a subway map on me when I go out but always look up the route using the site's interactive subway map first. All I did was click where I was starting from and where I wanted to end up and voilà:
It's such a life saver. I love knowing exactly where to transfer and how much the whole trip will cost (dirt cheap) and how long it's going to take me. And at Bupyeong there is an express train to Yongsan that bypasses a lot of stops but does stop at Guro so when I hopped on that one it shaved some time off the trip. I love love love the subway system here.
So I made it Suwon Station hassle free and having actually managed to nab a seat on the generally packed trains for most of the trip. The station building is connected to the AK Plaza department store so it's ginormous, you can't miss it.
(Taken on my way back from across the street)
Also there's a tourism center if you exit the station and go to the left and I picked up a couple useful maps and such there. When I came out of the subway there was a big map of the area as well as a list of which bus stops you should go to for carrying on to a particular location. I checked the stops that had routes for Hwaseong Fortress and picked one at random.
There are tons of bus stops outside the station. It was complete chaos. Literally at any given moment there were five or six buses lined up waiting to get in front of the stop to pick up passengers and the traffic was so thick that merging back in was a nightmare. Several buses were running routes about six stops from Hwaseong so when the first one I saw that I knew was heading there managed to squeeze through the mess I got on board.
So Hwaseong Fortress actually has an awesome sort of story behind it. And by awesome I mean it's disturbing but don't the most interesting places always have the darkest histories? Gather 'round while Grandma Wikipedia tells the tale:
Crown Prince Sado was born as the second son of the Korean King Yeongjo of Joseon. Because his older brother, Prince Hyojang, had died young, in 1728, Prince Sado was born the royal heir. However, it had been reported to his father that Sado was mentally ill, wantonly killed people, and was very erratic. This was a disappointment to King Yeongjo, and with the consent of Lady Yi, Yeongjo finally ordered his son to be sealed alive in a large rice chest (an order Sado obeyed), where he died within eight days. Sado's son became Jeongjo of Joseon after his father's death.
Hwaseong, the wall surrounding the center of Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, was built in the late 18th century by King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty to honour and house the remains of his father Prince Sado.All of Suwon was once surrounded by the fortress walls but obviously it's expanded since then. There are four gates and I started at Janganmun, the North gate.
In retrospect I probably should have waited for the warmer weather because a lot of the paths were icy but it also meant there weren't too many people out so I had a peaceful stroll up there and it was a pretty cool.
They also have a spot where for a few thousand won you can try your hand at traditional Korean archery.
And finally here we have the entrance to the fortress itself!
It wasn't a big deal though. I'm planning on heading back again in the warmer weather anyway because from March to November there are a variety of traditional performances and I'd like to see some of those. And admission is only ₩1,500 for the fortress itself so even if I visit a few times I'll always be getting more than my money's worth.
Plus the rest of Suwon outside the walls seems worth a second trip.
That's Paldalmun, the South gate, in the background. It's under some kind of construction right now so I didn't take too many pictures.
The other draw for me was the Korean dollar store. Well, it was a bit larger than you're typical dollar store with options more along the lines of The Christmas Tree Shops except not as clean. A Korean Christmas Dollar Shop if you will. Anyway I scooped up a few little householdy things and rejoiced to finally find hand cream that wasn't horribly overpriced. They had those little tubs of vaselline too which I jumped on because I cannot tell you how bad the dry winter here has been to my poor lips. It got to the point that I had to go to the pharmacy and spend ₩12,000 on medicated chap stick and then buy a humidifier to pick up the slack while I'm sleeping. I can't stress enough how dry the winters are here. I've always been prone to chapped lips so it's been especially bad but even still I do recommend getting a humidifier for this weather and should you need to purchase some extra strength lip balm, go with Uriage which you can find at your local pharmacy. I hate spending that much on something so small but it's a great product and completely worth it.
So anyway that was my New Year's weekend! It's been kind of a busy week and it's taken me a few days just to finally get this post off the ground so I'll be catching up soon on the other goings-on in icy cold Yeonsu and possible plans for Lunar New Year. But for now I am off to bed with only two classes tomorrow evening separating me from my weekend. So lovely.
Trivia of the Day: Lotte World is a major recreation complex in Seoul, South Korea. It consists of the world's largest indoor theme park that set a Guinness World Record open all year around, an outdoor amusement park called "Magic Island", an artificial island inside a lake linked by monorail, shopping malls, a luxury hotel, a Korean folk museum, sports facilities, and movie theaters all in one place. Opened on July 12, 1989, Lotte World receives over 8 million visitors each year and is considered along with Tokyo Disney Resort as one of the world-class theme parks in Asia.