Posts Tagged ‘Dog cafe’

SOTM World Tour – South Korea

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

 I liked Seoul, but don’t be put off when I tell you I considered it to be Tokyo lite.

I really don’t mean that as an insult, but when you wander the streets there are a striking number of similarities to the untrained eye, as mine is.

People from this region will be able to point to many differences of course, but to Westerners faced with narrow streets, tall buildings, cutting edge technology, copious amounts of Hello Kitty phone covers and beautiful, if indecipherable signs everywhere – well, it all blends into one.

There is a particular distinction – while Japan’s wifi is superb, widely available and very fast, South Korea’s is even better, and is rated as among the world’s best. After a few weeks there, I can personally confirm this fact. Japan’s wifi was lightning, but South Korea’s was faster than the speed of light.

Also, Koreans do a lot of barbecues, which mean you get small strips of tasty meat and a little round hot plate, often built into your table. It’s fun to finish off your own grub that way. Brings out the inner caveman and whatnot.

For the past year, Seoul has been particularly famous for Psy’s Gangnam Style song. The shot above is from that district, which is filled with designer gear and Rolls Royce showrooms, that kind of thing.

Here’s a typical shop window in Gangnam.

This lady is one I spotted that afternoon who might just have been the sort of person Psy was singing about.

 Incidentally, Psy’s face is everywhere in Seoul – you name it, he’s endorsed it. And why not? People like him make the world a better place.

But the best part of the city is to be found in the university quarter, as often is the case in cities around the world. Seoul’s is called Hongdae where you’ll find everything you want – cheap eats, great cafes, mobile phone shops, computer stores, and lots of novelty socks and clothes.

You’ll also find a Hello Kitty cafe in that district, and with some delight I visited it.

I’m a big fan of The Kitteh and still cannot find a T-shirt of her in a man’s size (there’s probably a good reason for that). I did manage to get this photo of me in there, and for a while I was (proudly) the only man on the premises.

But while I love all animals, I’m most of all a dog man, and was thrilled to visit a dog cafe. I know what you’re thinking – it is South Korea after all, where dog is a delicacy. But this isn’t that sort of place.

The pooches are all running around quite happily, and you can buy a packet of treats to feed them.

I did wonder about how often the dogs are exercised, what will all the treating going on by the thrilled customers, but most of them looked quite in shape and not overweight. Their coats were glossy and their eyes clear, and nails were clipped too so they did look in good health.

This little chap, a bit old and not very energetic, stuck with us all the whole time. I liked him. I called him Eric, in Eric Cantona’s honour.

Also spotted this fella on the way out and had to take his photo. I hope that bag was full of treats for him.

But after wandering around the über-modern Hongdae which crackles with electricity and microchips, I thoroughly recommend a detoxing visit to the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace.

Once the refuge of the Korean royal family, the palace is nice but I have a low tolerance for palaces and temples. Frankly, the world is full of them, those within one country often look the same and when people come to the UK, for example, they don’t spend their time going round all the churches that nation has to offer. If they did that in Malta they’d be particularly busy – there’s 365 of them there.

So I’ve a three-temple maximum, and then I’d rather wander around a market and try to capture people on the streets.

But while the only other people in the palace’s Secret Garden were the group we were part of – you have to be guided around – the whole garden area, which covers 78 acres, is simply gorgeous.

Amusingly, as our guide took us around, she kept pointing out places that various kings throughout the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897) used to play drinking games. So much so that I began to wonder if Korea’s ancient kings were partly British.

For example, the king would sit in the structure to the left while his ministers and strictly invited guests would come up with wordplay games and poems. If they failed to do so in a clever or chucklesome manner, they’d be banished for a while to the island in the middle of the water.

Other parts of the gardens were similarly dedicated to spots where the king and his cronies could drink away to their heart’s content.

The garden’s copious foliage affords great cover from the sun, and there are delights all around the paths you take. No wonder it was once only for the eyes of the privileged.

Brilliantly, this is a miniature paddy field, for the king to tend himself.

Depending on how it did, he would then know how good or bad the rice crop would be that year for his subjects. What a great idea! Let’s hope he acted accordingly when the crop was bad.

After having seen a bit of Seoul and sucked up as much of its wifi as possible, Adventurous Kate and I hopped on a train to Yeosu.

We were the guests of the excellent Heather, who proved her hostess/mostess tag by putting us up in her place for a few days, gallantly taking the couch herself so as to let us snooze in her bed.

Excitingly, Heather also arranged for me to visit Yeosu Girls’ Middle School, where I got a number of the charming young ladies there to take part in SOTM.

classWhile we were just guests that day, and observed Heather teach her pupils, I think Kate got quite into the idea of teaching a class herself, drawing an inspirational message expertly on the board.

dsc_0104This is a shot of me taking a SOTM in the classroom, with quite an excited audience.

DSC_0219And here are some of the great photos I got that day from the schoolgirls, who were very sweet. Click on the images to find out what they mean – the first one is a sumptuous little proverb, involving pears and typhoons.

This is Serena’s SOTM – many of the girls adopt Western names.

29112013After happy times in Yeosu, we pushed off to nearby Busan. Among its many features is a fascinating fish market. If it come out the sea and wriggles, then you’ll find it for sale there.

I’m making a break for it lads! I’m heading for the border! Freedo…. ah, rats.

The fish’s scales shimmered when they caught the sunlight.

 I also noticed that the majority of sellers in Busan’s fish market were women.

dsc_0297There are also lots of dive-bombing seagulls next to the fish market, which make for an entertaining few minutes’ distraction.

dsc_0356Finally, one afternoon, Kate and I strolled down to Busan beach for a very pleasant afternoon on the sand. If you’re in town, it’s a great place to visit and very clean.

The beach is apparently popular, but was quiet when we were there.

You know that thing where girls jump and try to get captured mid-flight? You see it everywhere.

dsc_0218Also in Busan I noticed that, like many other parts of the world I’ve been in, there are Turks selling Turkish food. I love kebabs, so this is a good thing, obviously. This chap was doing a few nifty tricks with ice cream.

So after all that little lot, it was off to be properly DownUnda – a trip to Australia for three weeks. I like kangaroos and don’t mind snakes, but what about spiders? Could I avoid their hairy clutches? Find out next time.