We arrived on a Tuesday night Dan-less and then proceeded to immediately get hustled by a cab driver taking us to our hotel. Oh well. Tony and I checked in and then asked the concierge directions to a good Korean BBQ spot. For those who haven't met Tony he is obsessed with Korean BBQ. It would not be an exaggeration to say that is a big part of why he wanted to visit Seoul. Largely through his influence I've come to really enjoy it as well, and I must say the meal did not disappoint. The quality of the beef was fantastic. We passed out and were lucky to be well-rested for what became a very interesting Wednesday.
I woke up and ordered breakfast then did my normal routine of dicking around on the internet. To my surprise I saw several links on my friends' Facebook/Twitter about North Korea attacking South Korea and started reading all about that. Basically, just as we were arriving in Seoul the Koreas had the biggest military incident between the two countries since the end of the Korean War. While I could see the seriousness of the events I was also pretty confident nothing would actually escalate from it, but it still wasn't exactly great timing to be visiting Seoul. While Tony and I did receive several very concerned messages from friends it seems basically everyone in Seoul felt the same as I did and went about the lives normally. I couldn't sense anyone really worried about the situation and what I read said the same thing. It appears most Koreans were just like, "Yeah, those North Koreans be crazy, what else is new?".
So Tony and I went on about our business. We knew one person combined in Seoul upon arriving, but as always with Tony he knows so many people that he's always able to get put in touch with people in whatever city he ends up. That night we went for Korean fried chicken with a mutual friend's ex-girlfriend who was in the city and a group of her friends. We immediately hit it off with the group and several rounds of beers, a bottle of soju, and some other Korean alcohol we were well-initiated to the Korean custom of going for drinks with your friends/co-workers after work. The fried chicken was nothing special, but the food was the hardly the focus.
After dinner we met up with group #2 of people Tony had been put in touch with. This was a group North American guys who had moved to Korea mostly to try to play Starcraft professionally at some point and then gotten into poker because Koreans are way too good at Starcraft. I think they all had some general version of that story. They had all been in Seoul long enough that they spoke both English and Korean fluently, which was nice because not a lot of people in Seoul speak much English, though there seems to be more of the younger generation making an effort to learn it. These guys took us to a karaoke spot spot where we proceeded to party until 7 or 8 in the morning. At this place they bring in girls to hang out in your room and party with you. They are paid to be there and hangout with you but that's all. I think only one girl spoke English, but we had a fun time drinking and singing and getting to know all the guys.
I awoke around 4pm on Thursday and Tony and I went for some much-needed Korean BBQ to cure our hangovers. After that we walked down to COEX mall, the largest underground mall in Asia. It really is pretty huge and has a lot of the huge international chains you would expect. It seemed like most people working at the mall spoke enough english to get by as it's such a huge tourist attraction. All the signs were in both English and Korean which was different from most other places we visited. Then we wanted to go see the new Harry Potter movie but for some reason they didn't have it in Korea yet, so we saw Unstoppable instead which was actually pretty decent. When we got out of the movie a few people from the first group the previous night were keen for us to meet them at their friend's club in Itaewon. All the partying was starting to wear me down by this point, but we didn't come to Asia to not party, so off we went and had another great night.
Friday was our final night in Seoul and of the entire trip. It was all already planned to go out with a blast. First, I was meeting up with a friend from university now living in Seoul for dinner, and then we were meeting up with Starcraft boys and hitting a booking club. Over the course of the night talking with my friend and then experiencing a night at the booking club I learned that dating in Korea is just way different than in North America. My impression is that while many Koreans appear to be conservative and in some ways shy, they are also very social and open to giving a date a try with a lot of people they meet and seeing how it goes. I have yet to explain what a booking club is, but I should preface that explanation by saying it's not something most people do in Seoul. Yet, the very fact these places exist shows how different the culture is.
It's not unlike a high-end club in most places in the world in that the guys pay for a table with bottle service, beers, etc.... but you also have your own private room like at a karaoke place. They give you a nice spread of food as well. The girls get in for free. They are completely normal girls just looking to meet guys (this isn't Macau), the same as the guys are looking to meet girls. The difference is that there are waiters going around the dance floor and area outside the private rooms. They have a camera in every room so they can see when a guy doesn't have a girl sitting beside him and they immediately move to rectify this situation. Girls are pulled into your room, sometimes literally, and they have no choice but to go when the waiter grabs them. They can always leave when they get there or you can ask them to leave, but if you're a girl hanging around by yourself outside you have no control over when/where you end up next. Throughout the night you might easily talk to 10-15 girls. It really was something to see firsthand.
In the morning I awoke feeling like crap, Tony feeling worse not having slept, and we made our way to the airport for about half what we paid on the way in. The long flight home really sucked, though probably not as bad as I'm making it sound except for transferring at LAX. That was a disaster, thank god I left 4 hours between flights.
I spent the next 3 weeks in Toronto and currently I'm home in Newfoundland for the holidays. I'll write another post soon detailing my plans for the first quarter of 2011, and reviewing my 2010.