Hello one and all. A very happy 2012 to you. 새해 복 많이 바드새요.
Great news to start off the year! As mentioned in a previous post
, there was a free bus operating between Seoul and 3 major Korean cities exclusively for foreigners. This service was for ‘Visit Korea’ year and was due to end on December 31st, 2011.
Well, due to popular demand, and bar a few changes, the service has been extended.
Changes to note are as follows:
- The route to Gyeongju which I took and wrote about previously has now been cut. The routes Seoul-Busan and Seoul-Jeonju will remain open, with one bus travelling in each direction every day.
- The timetable for the Busan bus has changed, now leaving later and stopping at fewer places along the way.
Occasionally I will be sat in my room in Seoul writing, when all of a sudden a sound both familiar and dreadful will stir me. It’s a sound I know from visiting museums about world war 2 in England which would have a soundtrack of mortar fire and the ‘Moaning Minnie’ as it was known.
Since that tumultuous time, I doubt the moaning minnie has really ever been heard. In Korea however, every 3 months or so, the early warning sirens are tested. It can be a daunting thing to a new comer in Korea, to hear those strained sounds reverberate across the city. There is never any cause for alarm, I still maintain that the media, as it seems with everything in this age, completely overplay the situation between the two Koreas. I have friends in the army (both American and Korean) stationed here who compare being stationed in Korea today with Germany in the 80s. Want to know what I mean? Watch the movie ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ with Joaquin Phoenix. A few buzz words like tension and animosity are all it takes for a ever increasingly sadistic press to misinterpret reality.
I reiterate, the siren will most likely only ever be a test out here. Check the time if you do hear it. 11am or 2pm on the dot are generally the test times. The siren will last 2-3 minutes then stop. They are usually indicators of a flyover by the air force in a civil defense drill or just a maintenance test for the equipment. If it is a defense drill you might also notice cars will stop in the streets whilst the alarm sounds. People may also stop. Most likely there will have been a public notice given on radio and in the news in Korean. Of course the best ploy is to watch the Koreans. If they are not panicking, then neither should you. Rest easy people. Go and eat some kimchi.
Every Sunday in Hyehwa, on University road (대학로), there is a large Filipino market that starts around 10 or 11am and runs until 5 or 6pm. It is a very popular local event with the large Filipino expat community, Koreans and other foreign nationals alike.
Many Koreans come out to taste authentic Pinoy cuisine at the market stalls or the small restaurants which are tucked away and go unnoticed for the rest of the week.
Filipinos come along to socialize, have a taste of home and pick up food stuffs and household that are impossible to obtain elsewhere in Korea. Things which are reminders of home mostly. The market adds a nice touch of multiculturalism to the area of a weekend.
The Wooribank at the Hyehwa Rotary here is one of the only banks in Seoul to remain open on a Sunday as this is the day they cater to foreign nationals’ needs. This could prove to be useful in an emergency cash-flow situation.
Definitely try some of the food. It is cheap and usually really good quality, although I have know a couple of people to whom it wasn’t exactly to their liking. I personally love it. For $6 you can get a big plate of food and it’s a nice change of gastronomic pace from Korean food.
When? Every Sunday from 10am – 5pm
Where? Hyehwa Station, Subway Line 4, exits 1&4 – walk straight for 100 metres upon exiting the station.
Alternatively, a large number of buses run by Hyehwa, including but not limited to, 102,106,107,140,143,171,271,272,273 and many more
Being an actor, I sub-consciously looked for an area of Seoul that was vibrant, youthful and creative when I arrived here.
No surprises then that after my first 2 days in Korea, I found myself in a guest house in Hyehwa (the theatre district around university road). Within 10 minutes from here there are roughly 80 theatres, countless music bars and always something interesting and creative going on in the street.
2 years later and I still live in the same guest house. It seems to be a lucky place for me. Whilst I have been here, countless number of filming shoots have taken place in or around the house, including one very famous SBS drama, and a famous Filipino drama which came to Korea for a special edition of the series and also filmed here. The cast and crew also stayed at the guest house.
It’s in a peaceful place minutes from the subway station and a major commercial area of North Seoul. To book accommodation at Open Guest House, click on this link.
Incredibly, Visit Seoul are currently offering a free shuttle bus between Seoul and three major tourist destinations in Korea. This is part of their oddly named Visit Korea Year, which would be all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that it runs from 2010-2012.
The destinations a foreigner in Korea can travel to for free are:
Gyeongju – Korea’s historical capital and former seat of the Jeoseon Dynasty for centuries. This is the best place is Korea to get a sense of historic Korea, and one which has not been rebuilt.
Busan – Korea’s second city, famed for being more laid back than Seoul, and home of the famous Haeundae Beach. It also hosts the expansive Jagalchi Fish Market and good ferry and plane links to close neighbour, Japan.
Jeonju – Supposedly the culinary capital of Korea. All you foodies take note. There are a number of sites of historic interest here also.
This offer runs from now until December 31st, 2011.
The buses are phenomenal; only 3 seats across each row, spacious, comfortable, air conditioned and shiny deluxe buses. Aside from the lengthy visit Korea promo video which plays for a while once the trip has started, it is easy to fall asleep and wake up at your destination.
What’s more, there is NO catch. You don’t have to buy anything, you don’t have to visit any specific places and get herded around like cattle, you just get on at a designated spot and off at your destination. You can travel free either one way or return, and there is no time limit on how long you wait before returning.
The buses travel on every day of the week except Mondays. Plan your trip accordingly.
To reserve your seat, click on this link and have your passport handy. You must reserve in advance, you can’t just rock up and get on the bus.
So far I have only been to Gyeongju and back using this service but I highly recommend it and will certainly take the opportunity to visit Busan and Jeonju using it also before 2012.
A few rules for riding the bus or subway to ensure you do not get scowled at nor told off by a disgruntled, elderly Korean lady:
1) Seats at either end of a subway carriage are reserved exclusively for the elderly, disabled or pregnant women. Do not sit in those seats at any time, even if the car seems quiet. Sometimes in the space of one subway station, the train can fill up. Buses have single seats closer to the front that are also reserved.
2) Give up your seat to someone more in need if the train or bus is very full.
3) Wait for people to leave the train before attempting to enter. On the bus, you enter through the front and exit via the middle door only.
4) Sometimes old Korean ladies (affectionately known as ajumas) will barge you out of the way. They are much stronger than they appear. They apparently have right of way and there is nothing you can do about it. It is better to take this slight with good natured aplomb, rather than get annoyed, as this will never get you anywhere and you will just look daft.
5) You can eat on the subway or bus, but be aware that most people sharing the ride with you probably don’t want to smell what you are eating.
6) If you want to fit in with the other Koreans on public transport, you can either a) watch t.v. on your smart phone (oh yes, mobile phones have full connectivity deep under the city even)
c) listen to music
or d) play games on your smart phone
Keeping these things in mind, you should be all set to ride Korea’s public transport hassle-free.