Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Seoul Searching (Part 1)

10th Dec 05

When I woke up, I will be in Korea. I woke up about 4am and my cousin told me that supper was served earlier. It was smoked salmon burger. I dozed off again and woke up 2 hours before touchdown. I went to freshen up and breakfast will soon be served. Plane food normally sucks. Cold, hard and no taste at all. With the occasional hardened bun.

It wasn’t long after breakfast that the pilot announced we will reach Korea soon. I peered out the window and saw land! As the air pressure changes, my ear drums gets tighter and tighter. I swallowed hard but it didn’t help. My head was about to burst from the pressure. The touchdown was the smoothest I have ever experienced. I barely feel the plane touching the ground. The pain on my ear eventually ceases.

Finally we reached Korea at 9:20am. We were greeted with a chilling -2°C. I never experienced temperature below 10°C. What more can I say on below freezing point.

We quickly freshen ourselves and changed into warmer clothes. Our tour bus is waiting outside. We were met by our Korean tour guide. Her name is Chrisse as she stresses on the “e”. I forgot to mention our tour guide that accompanied us from Penang is Sophia. Beside Chrisse was her sidekick named Jay. He is in charge of helping us on luggages, taking pictures and helping out Chrisse.

The airport’s double sliding doors opened and gushes of chilling wind hit us like ice. We quickly load our luggage and climbed into the bus. Off we go to our first stop-Gyeongbok Palace and Cultural Museum. We need to walk a bit from the street to the Museum and it was so cold! I guess I am going to use the word “cold” quite often from now on.

It was beautiful as we took pictures in front of a Pagoda looking building. Which I believe is the Gyeongbok Palace. There were white snow on the sidewalks and the place is so oriental and placid. The picture seen on this chapter was taken from this place. We took pictures while we walked to the Museum.

We practically ran inside to get the warmth inside the Museum. The museum showcased figurines of ancient Korean civilization. There are displays of ancient cooking and food preparing methods. Statues of Korean emperors and queens from different eras wearing colorful clothes. The Museum also displayed how Korean ladies from different hierarchy dresses differently from each other.

Our tour guide continued on with some “history class”. I was basically wandering elsewhere as I do not really understand the whole stuff they were discussing about
Koreans are famous for its “Kimchi” where vegetables are fermented and prepared with special sauces. Little did I know that following on, we will have Kimchi for each of our meals in Korea.
Soon we were outside again. We were hungry even when we just had our breakfast on the plane. Wondering was is the cold? We continued to visit the Palace ground. The place reminds me of a movie with emperors and noble guards. It was so cold that our hands turned ice as soon as we took our gloves off to take some pictures.

We took a group picture in front of the palace. We hurried back to our bus. We still have one more stop before we stop for lunch-the Presidential Blue House.

Near the President House were guards in every corner. We were stopped by some guards while entering the Presidential Blue House territory. The guard climbed up into our bus and our tour guide just said “Malaysia”. The guard acknowledged and let us go.

Photographs of the Presidential Blue House are strictly prohibited. We do not want to break any rules and stopped a 100 feet away to take some snapshots of the Presidential Blue House.
Finally, it was lunch time! I am basically starving and chilled to my bones. It was like heaven to enter the warm restaurant with hot food served. The first meal we had were seafood and vegetable steamboat. I had my first taste of Kimchi and could not get enough. One thing I like about Korean meals is the food are served in small portions. In every meal, there will be the main meal (be it Steambot, BBQ or etc). There would be several side dishes of vegetable (cold) and Kimchi. We were free to top up once our dish finished. So you can enjoy to your fullest satisfaction. I saw a lot of people were not adventurous enough to try the Korean delights. I basically ate anything that doesn’t looked too strange :p Heck we are in a foreign land and we must eat whatever that is served!

After lunch, we traveled to Equatorial Adventure Park. This park is situated within Yongin Everland a.k.a. Festival World Theme Park. Christmas carols and songs drifted through the air. Not to mention “again” it was very cold. We were like magnetized human who will automatically drawn to any heater poles nearby.

We went riding an “open air” cable chair ride down to the safari. We kept hearing the Everland staff saying “Baby Keeps Smile” while waving both his hands to the passengers young or old. After hearing it quite a while, it doesn’t sound like “Baby Keeps Smile”. It was “Mae-E Kis-Ma”. Geddit? – “Merry Christmas!”

Anyway, we join the fun and wave our hands saying back “Mae-E Kis-Ma”
Down at the Safari, the first thing we saw were polar bears! It was the first time I saw Polar bears and they are so cuuute!!

They are cheeky mammals. Somebody threw biscuits to the bears and instead it dropped to the water. Not diving into the cold waters, the bear used its paw to draw the biscuits from the water and ate it. So cute! It kept looking at us eagerly wanting some more biscuits.
Then we saw the magnificent White Tigers and Penguins!

We were then escorted to a bus ride to meet the bears and tigers. This one is special!
We sat in the Safari bus with wide see-through glass window. The iron gates opened and closed behind the Safari bus. This is the place where wildlife wanders freely, cage-less in the park. The only thing that separated us was the bus’s see-through glass window. This reminds me of Jurassic Park!

We saw a pack of lions sleeping on top of a giant stone slab. I never had seen a lion so close before. They were basically an inch away from me. The spotless see-through glass window made it feels as if I was standing just in front of them.

Further down, we saw tigers crossing the road. Not very far, we saw a tiger+lion creature. Well, I am not sure how to call this breed as it is a breed between a tiger and lion. I guess that is what happened when Safari animals get a little bit more adventurous!
This Ti-Lion (which I am going to call it for now) inherited more of the tiger side but its size is noticeably larger than a normal tiger.

Next, we reach the bear haven. Bears are basically everywhere! It’s bears galore! These bears are not ordinary jungle bears. They are able to clap, nod, shake hands and stand on each command by the safari bus driver. When the bears saw our bus, they will immediately stand up and ran with 2 legs. Yes, 2 legs like human towards our bus drooling for bear biscuits.
They looked so comical when they did that and everyone whipped out their recorders to capture the scene.

The iron gates slid open and closed behind us. When the iron gate is completely closed, then only the second iron gate opened-just to ensure no cheeky bears decided to escape joining the human race.
After the Safari ride, we were free to roam around Everland. The evening is getting colder. My legs are aching due to the cold. We tried to visit as many areas as possible and stopped occasionally to souvenier shops when the cold got into our bones. When we were warm again, we got out and took more pictures. There are thrill rides, gardens and clowns everywhere. Christmas spirit is in the air as you can hear Christmas songs everywhere.

The sky is pitch black and from a distance, shone an enormous Christmas tree. We were drawn to the tree with its bright lights. A huge crowd had gathered under the tree and carolers where performing under the tree. The beat got faster from Silent Night to Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. Down came Santa with his fat belly dancing to the crowd. Then Santa led the crowd to a countdown (in Korean of course) …. Sam, Ee, Yer “Merry Christmas!” A snow blower started blowing “snow” and turned the moment just like a real Christmas.

We had an enjoyable time in Everland and all the stresses are forgotten. All I can think about is the very moment with the breathtaking sight. Everyone is deep into the Christmas mood and basically bouncing instead of walking. Time flies while we were in Everland. It’s time for us to rest after a long day. We had another steamboat dinner nearby and checked into Grand Tourist Hotel for a good night rest. Sleeping with a smile on my face , I could not wait as there are more to come tomorrow!

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