First trip to Asia (part 3: entering Seoul)

Saturday

After sleeping a few hours on the airplane from Hong Kong, we landed at Incheon airport and met Virginia’s father at arrivals. We all greeted one another and headed to the metro for the train ride into the city. On the way, he let us know he had arranged for us to stay at the Grand Hilton near his apartment, which certainly surprised us both. It’s a beautiful hotel, though, and we’re able to sit back and relax. It also means we all get a little privacy each day.

Once we had checked in, we joined Virginia’s father in the lounge for a celebratory glass of wine (which turned into two). During our conversation, he was reminded of Wordsworth’s “She was a phantom of delight,” especially the following couplet:

For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.

We stayed in the hotel for dinner at its Japanese restaurant, Mitsumomo. And we had FUGU! The famed swellfish that requires its poison to be extracted as part of its preparation is not something to take lightly or turn down if you have the chance. Even though we were exhausted, we finished both the multi-course meal and a bottle of Shiraz before Virginia’s dad, watching us both start to nod off, graciously paid the bill and let us go to bed.

Sunday

The hotel arrangements included breakfast each morning. So after nine hours of sleep, we roused ourselves and headed downstairs for the buffet. It’s an intriguing mix of Korean and Western options, from omelets and bacon to bulgogi and miso soup. With five days here, I’m sure we’ll get to everything. (updated: we pretty much did.)

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The Economics building is behind us, looming over the rest of campus (as it should be.)

We met up with Virginia’s father around 11am and headed out for the day. First stop: Yonsei University and his office. The office, in the centrally located Daewoo Hall for economics, is both large and wonderfully academic. Books are stacked everywhere, and a large table full of books sits against the wall where one could easily imagine bookcases instead. Not that there aren’t any — a wall of bookcases sits behind the desk and is already full with books and papers. A small nook for his assistant is nestled behind the door. We stay for a little while, as he shows us some of the books he’s read or used for research. He also gives us one of his most recent books. It doesn’t matter that we can’t read it; we’re thankful and look forward to showing it off to friends at home.

We walk through part of Yonsei to lunch, an Italian restaurant just off campus. We can see Ewha Women’s University from our table. (Virginia asked whether anyone had considered a merger of Yonsei and Ewha, and her father said Ewha wasn’t interested.) Lunch was excellent — a green salad with assorted mushrooms, potato soup, and pasta, followed by coffee. We then went to Gyeongbokgung, the main palace in Seoul from before it was occupied by Japan.

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The royal audience chamber at Gyeongbokgung.

Fortunately, the cold weather kept many people away, so walking around was easy. On the other hand, we ourselves felt no need to linger and left after a little over an hour.

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Shopping in Insadong.

From there, we walked over to Insadong, a main shopping area. Unbeknownst to Virginia and me beforehand, Insadonggil is pedestrian-only on Sundays, which definitely improved the experience. We wandered a bit before ducking into a small tea shop for ginger tea and Korean cakes. We finished our walk and took a taxi back to the hotel via a scenic route past the Blue House, where Virginia’s father fulfilled some of his military experience.

Because much of Seoul is closed on Sundays, we ate at the other main restaurant at our hotel, Yeohyang. We were treated in all respects to an amazing Chinese menu in a private dining room. I was fading fast, but enjoyed everything.

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