Vacation to Seoul South Korea – Day 4 – Lost

I woke up this morning and had that sinking feeling as I got dressed–my wallet was missing. Thoughts raced through my head as to where it might be. The last time I saw it was last night as I paid for dinner. Did I leave it at the restaurant? Did I lose it on the way home? Did my pocket get picked? Did someone sneak into my room while we were sleeping? I replayed the evening in my mind as I tore apart the bed, then went through all of our luggage and dirty clothes hoping to find ALL of our money and ALL of our credit cards. Several minutes of absolute terror ended when I found it behind and underneath our stack of luggage–it had slipped out of my pants pocket overnight.

Chris had a date in Paju last night and again tonight, so Lori and I were on our own in a foreign land where the only words we know are “hello” and “thank you” and we can not read a single sign without an English tag. On our way through the lobby, we overheard a conversation between a woman with a British accent and the front desk attendant. She missed the tour bus that leaves the hotel every day at 9:00 and was asking directions and suggestions for things to do. We interrupted and asked her if she would like to join us on a day of adventure. She agreed, we introduced ourselves, and the three of us headed for the subway for a self guided tour of Seoul. 

Amanda was living in New Zealand and heading for London with a one day stopover in Seoul.  All alone, she was ready for an adventure, and was happy to have company. We had a similar desire for things to do and decided to take a bus tour of downtown Seoul.  We made it downtown like a trio of pro subway riders and proceeded to look for the Duty Free shop where we could pick up the tour bus. On our way, we stopped for coffee at a small shop. The ladies had a hot drink while I opted for a sandwich. The male attendant spent 5 minutes or so preparing an incredible sandwich that puts Subway to shame. The bread was similar to Panini and was heated in a toaster oven. Ham, cheese,crunchy vegetables, and 2 layers of dressing were added. One layer was white like mayonnaise, the other was yellow with red and green speckles. It was a fabulous combination. Our chef communicated with us in his broken English, told us where to find the Duty Free Shop, and told us to ‘have a nice day’.

On our walk, we saw a palace that we decided was close enough to walk to. It was surrounded by guards in colorful uniforms. Upon entry, we discovered that there were 2 English speaking walking tours in the afternoon, so we left and decided to come back later for the guided tour.

We looked everywhere and finally found the tour bus, then found the ticket booth, and finally saw the Duty Free Shop tucked away in a not-so-easy-to-find recessed area. There was time for lunch before the bus left, so we found a street vendor and bought his stuff. We each had a fist sized white wad of sweet partially cooked risen dough filled with bean paste and a 6-pack of something that looked like dim-sum. Both selections were hearty and bursting with flavor. This was Amanda’s first bite of Korean food–she was impressed.

The temperature was in the single digits with a steady wind. We were happy to get on the bus and take a 2 hour ride through downtown Seoul. This was done to help us develop a plan on what to see on later dates. We drove through an antique district and several shopping districts. We saw several palaces, museums, and U.S. military posts. We are looking forward to going back to the top of a mountain in the middle of the city that has a lookout tower.

We made it back to the palace in time to see the changing of the guard. Two squads of guards dressed in bright colorful costumes marched to the beat of a drum and changed positions. One squad got out of the cold, the other was soon to experience the frigid breeze.

We were chilled to the bone waiting for our tour to begin. Finally, a bright young Korean woman introduced herself to the 6 of us in the tour and began our walk around the palace. I found it fascinating and was keying my ear to her accent filled with mispronunciations–she couldn’t say ‘royal family’ and kept talking about the ‘lawyer family’. She was very smart and extremely nice and seemed to enjoy our company as much as we enjoyed her knowledge.  The palace is on 100 acres with many buildings that we could peer into but not enter–we were going to be outside in the cold for the whole tour.

About 20 minutes into the tour, Lori and Amanda disappeared. I saw them walking away and assumed they were just hurrying to a wind-break. A few minutes later, they were completely out of sight. I finished the tour with a couple of American ESL teachers from China who were spending their winter break in Korea. The tour was most interesting and filled another hour of my time.

As I made my way back to the starting point, I saw that all of the doors at the main gate were closed, except one. I hurried through the door as it was locked behind me. I was expecting to find Lori and Amanda waiting outside the gate, but they were not. The sun was going down and it was getting colder and I was all alone. I walked along the quarter mile long wall hoping to find them along the way–no luck.

I tried to get my bearings straight and tried to figure out where they might be waiting for me in this city of 24 million people. I walked back to the palace gate and retraced my steps from earlier in the day. I remembered passing a big Confucius statue and found the subway entrance. I was getting colder and thought about where I could go to get warm. I made my way back to the coffee shop with the delicious sandwich. I ordered hot chocolate, sat down, and secured an internet connection on my I-Touch personal electronic computer. I went straight to facebook and posted to Lori where she could find me. I was prepared to sit there, warm up, and wait until dark.

Two cups of hot chocolate later and I was still alone. I signed-in to skype, hoping Lori had her phone on–no luck. I skyped Chris and found him at home. He had plans for the evening and suggested I get back on the subway and wait for her at our hotel. During the course of the conversation, Lori and Amanda appeared in the coffee shop–I was never so happy to see anyone in my life! They were frozen and could not handle the outdoor tour, so they spent the afternoon in a coffee shop. When they were locked out of the palace they tried to find me–with no luck. They made their way to an internet cafe and were about to post a message on facebook when mine appeared. They left a note for me to wait where I was and made their way to the coffee shop.

Three hungry people had a hot drink and decided it was suppertime. I remembered seeing a Korean BBQ place in an alley next to the coffee shop and we decided to eat there. Amanda thought her first sit-down Korean meal was incredible. She wielded the chopsticks like a pro and thoroughly enjoyed the flavors of the meats,vegetables, and sauces. We shared a bottle of soju and enjoyed another great meal. Our hostess took it upon herself to cook our meat for us–she did not do this for any of the Korean patrons. She noticed my lack of dexterity with the chopsticks and proceeded to fill each leaf of lettuce for me with her suggested combinations of ingredients without saying a word–it was wonderful, again.

It is always an adventure when we go on vacation and we were happy to find another adventurous soul to join us. It was a long, cold, unescorted day in a strange land–and we had a great experience and a wonderful time with our new found friend from New Zealand.

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Read this article: Vacation to Seoul South Korea – Day 4 – Lost « Mr Mike's Blog […]

  2. Mike – I sure am loving reading about your vacation and living it a little vicariously through you and Lori!! (Great jacket!) – MJ

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