Greg met me at the Dong-Seoul bus depot, in the heart of downtown. He doesn't live in Seoul, but close enough that he's learned a few things about the city. I didn't plan a thing, I just told him I wanted to visit him, and showed up. He took the reigns, and proved to be an adept tour guide. He first took me to Gyeongbokgung Palace. A time capsule in the middle of the bustling metropolis of Seoul, it really was a surreal experience. Such beauty, such intention, such precision and attention to detail in the architecture, artwork, and horticulture. Breathtaking. We walked and walked, took pictures, and absorbed some history. After a time, we sat on a bench in the shade. The sun was bright and the sky was blue, and we passed an hour or so catching up on the last few years, drinking in the calm of the early afternoon and a few days with no obligations. The company was perfect, and a sense of easy comfort was palpable.
That afternoon we ventured to another neighborhood, Insadong, where I was lucky to happen upon some Nagchampa as well as some Korean phrase books which I have been yearning for since day one. We ate bulgogi at a rooftop restaurant on a busy mall, where traditional goods were abundant, and the views were worth the number of stairs it took to arrive at the top. Now well-fed and ready for more sitting, we found a coffee shop where we chatted and waited for Babbie to get in touch with us. She would be arriving in the evening.
We eventually met her in Meyong-Dong, an insane shopping district, thick with people, LED displays, designer brands, and street vendors selling everything from knock-off gucchi sunglasses to bizarre little plastic characters in action poses--some dangling from springing cords designed to dangle in window fronts. It was a sensory overload.
While we waited for Babbie, Greg bought me a delicious pastry from a street vendor, reminding me of elephant ears and funnel cake. It had a sweet and cinnamon taste, warm and sticky.
Babbie and her friends arrived and we feasted on spicy dahk galbi: chicken grilled at the table with vegetables and spices. They drank soju, but I had already learned to avoid it. I had a beer.
Greg and I elected to depart from their group at this point and head to the jimjabang, where we would be staying for the night. We were exhausted. For those unfamiliar, a jimjabang is the Korean version of the public bath, but is also so much more. There are many spas of course (separated by gender) where massages and body scrubs and other services are available, but that's only the beginning. This particular jimjabang also had a rooftop movie theater and garden, an arcade, a restaurant, several common areas, sleeping rooms, a swimming pool, an ice room, additional clothed co-ed saunas, outdoor spas, and a full gym. The entrance fee? About $10.After our respective spa-ing and unwinding, we met again in the common area. We played some games I had brought, ate ice cream, and gradually became too tired to sit up any longer. We retired to our respective sleeping quarters. I awoke the next morning refreshed. I took a spa, showered, and packed to go. We met up with the rest of the crew and decided on an easy day. We made it to an Asian art museum, but took our time. The sun and blue sky had left us and as we each carried our umbrellas, the rain falling all around us, I breathed in a reminder of home. We walked more, and rode the metro. We ate Italian food and then sat in food-coma state while we felt the warmth of a good weekend wash over us in quiet repose. We talked of the week ahead--the Korean thanksgiving holiday right in the middle of it, giving us 3 extra days off. I felt it had been a good weekend, but welcomed the idea of my bed and my space. I thought of future weekend trips and smiled to myself. There is so much life to explore.