Well since we are now back in Israel with a proper keyboard I feel the need to post about Seoul and Busan, especially since I feel I shortchanged our wonderful hosts in Seoul,Jongsoon and Won. We contacted them through http://www.servas.org, an international friendship and hosting organization which we joined before we left China. Servas means “to serve” in Esperanto,an organization which promotes cross-cultural exchange among travellers. You join them after being interviewed and paying a small sum of money and then they send you lists of contact information for the hosts in your destination country. You don’t have to host people to stay at your house,you can simply be a day hosts.We received 30 pages of hosts in Korea and we wrote to Jongsoon Shin and her husband Won,who are roughly the same age as us,she is a High school teacher of English and He is a retired banker,and they have two 20 something kids who live with them.They sent us a warm email and met us at the airport bus stop near their home at 11.30pm and helped us carry all our luggage to their apartment.They gave us our own bedroom and bathroom,maps and guide books on the city and a transportation card each with money on it!.
We spent two wonderful days at their house,and when we told them we were moving to a hotel (Servas policy states to stay 2 days unless invited to stay longer) they were a bit upset so we told them we would return at the end of our Korean trip and stay with them again.
In Seoul we enjoyed visiting several royal palaces -Changdeokgung, Changyeonggung and Gyeongbukgung and also the Shrine of Jongmyo where the spirit tablets of past kings are buried.We tried to understand something about Korean culture and enjoyed the serenity of the gardens.We visited the Korean War Memorial and saw many groups of school and kindergarten kids in uniforms, walking in long lines and sitting down to eat their packed sushi lunches.They were adorable and all waved ans shouted hello to us.
As a Brit,I had really not known a lot about the Korean war before our visit, so I found the War Memorial most informative,and moving,seeing the conditions people had to live in during the war (there was also an IMAX thing recreating some of the wartime experiences) and realizing how quickly the North had invaded Seoul.One day we met a group of people demonstrating in the street about missing persons still unaccounted for who had apparently been kidnapped to North Korea, and they also explained that in the past divided families had been allowed to reunite once a year,but that recent tensions between the Koreas meant that these reunifications had been discontinued.
We enjoyed visiting different parts of the city- transportation was easy with the prepaid card,hopping on and off subways, we saw bustling Itaewon with many foreigners shopping and eating, yuppy Insadong with cute shops selling fans and other souvenirs, and we enjoyed walking along by the river with its bike paths and couples strolling along.Seoul really does have soul…
We wanted to do a tour of the DMZ to see the border with North Korea,but after we discovered that you need to book it 3 days ahead to allow the UN to check your passport etc we faxed them our passports and decided to take the tour on our return to Seoul at the end of our trip,and flew to Jeju island (see earlier post).
On to Busan..