WARNING: Written on a five hour train ride. Just thinking out loud cause I have nothing else to do.
It is amazing how spending two nights in one location can make life easy. You can leave your bag in the room and not have to pack it out with you, and you get to know the town a little better. I spent my second night last night at Seorksan National Park, where I again roomed with Claude, the Belgian. It was a relaxing evening, as we both slept for about 3 hours upon our return from hiking. We woke up, got some pizza (Korean Style) and brought it back to our room where we sat on the floor at our fold out table and ate it. Since you never wear shoes in Korean homes, rooms, and many restaurants, the floor stays considerably cleaner. We went to sleep
soon after and woke up early this morning to catch a bus back to Sokcho, where he went on to Andong, and I went to a PC Bong (see earlier post) to update. I wandered around Sokcho for a while, unsure of where I wanted to go. Around noon I decided that Andong was as good a place as any, and got a 1.5 hour bus ride to a small town where I caught a train to Andong, some distance away. While waiting for the train I wandered around trying to find someplace that had wireless internet so I could upload all my pictures to Flickr. No such luck. I did come upon a restaurant that smelled extremely good, and had some food priced for w5000 on the front, so I went in and had my first real old style Korean meal. I have to say, I was impressed. After the cheap street vendors who over spice most of the food, and the foul smelling small fish of the mountain town Seork-dong, I was expecting the worst. As you can see, I got a ton of food for my won. At about $5USD, it kind of beats the big mac with fries and a coke combo. I was sitting on the floor without shoes, on mats, using chopsticks, enjoying the food for the first time, and I was able to order, pay, and thank the servers in Korean. A very cool experience. I think my stomach and taste buds may have just finally realized that spicy food is what they are going to get and decided to get over themselves.
It has almost been a week, and I have hit most of the moods that go along with traveling. Before I landed in Seoul, I was thinking that this was a retarded idea, and I should probably get back to the US as fast as I could. I felt like I was in over my head, and I had not even landed! The first few hours from the airport to Rachel and Nathans house were enlightening, but not exactly encouraging. At this point I knew almost none of the language, and could not recognize any of the signs. I had not yet become comfortable asking for help from Koreans, and so I spent some time just being lost but acting like I knew what was going on. As I got out on my own, my self confidence began to build with every choice I made. I realized that if I tried to speak Korean, it was greeted with a smile, sometimes applause, and always with helpful attitudes. By now, I can read the sign for motel, so I know I will never be stranded. So far, the lowest time was when I was standing on a corner at 9:00pm, trying to find a place to stay in Chuncheon, and it was freezing cold. I ended up shelling out $35 for a room just so I could sleep. But I learned. It pays to get in early enough that you can find your way in the light, and having a place ahead of time is a blessing. Youth Hostels, while rare in Korea, are great inventions because you can stay, meet people and get advice from them, or travel with them.
I have also learned as I go about changing money. Small towns don’t have global ATM’s, and big towns usually only have a few, so if you run out of money and the yeogwan’s (cheap places to stay) don’t take credit cards, you are going to pay more. You get your money whenever you see a place that lets you pull it out. Hold some in the wallet, some in the travel belt, and more stashed somewhere else for just in case.
I have been keeping track of my finances, and it breaks down to about $40USD a day. More expensive than I would like, but some of that is due to me being unfamiliar with traveling. I spent money on a few taxis because I did not know that the local bus would get me there for 1/3rd the price. I had to go across town and back again because the only money changing bank was on the other side of the city. I paid too much for entrance to a palace (just once!) because I didn’t plan enough. However, most of this expense comes from the actual traveling. Busses are cheap, but they add up. A train for five hours costs w13800, but this puts me half-way down the coast. If I stayed put, I could half my cost, but then I wouldn’t be traveling would I? The last five nights of my stay in Korea are either Couch Surfing, or at the Seoul Backpackers Hostel, which is only w17,000 a night, and includes internet and breakfast. Those days should be cheaper than most.