Vacation in Korea 10-3-11

October 3, 2011

When we flew into Seoul from China we were accompanied by many Chinese on vacation. It is National Day, here, equivalent to Independence Day in the U.S. There was a man standing at the Seoul entrance welcome area holding a cross with “Believe in Jesus” written in many languages. I don’t know if he stands there all the time, or just when Chinese nationals are coming in hordes, but I appreciate his missionary work. We aren’t allowed to talk about religion in China with Chinese citizens at all. That Korean man with his sign was doing his best to preach to the people we can’t talk with.

We got in late to Seoul and checked into our hotel, the Astoria Hotel. On Sunday we went to church. It was conference in Salt Lake, but here in Asia we watch conference the next weekend because of the time difference. We were greeted by an older man who spoke good English. His name was Brother Cho. He was the first bishop in all of Korea. He was bishop for 15 years. He oversaw the building of the chapel. He gave us a tour. There were only 24 in attendance. One of the ladies told us that 34 members had just moved to a suburban ward. There were wards all over the map in Seoul. They will probably need to adjust the boundaries.

This whole week is Chinese National Holiday. Korea is very close to Beijing, so there are an estimated 70,000 Chinese tourists in Korea this week—including us! It hasn’t been bad, though. It is a bit crowded in Seoul, but lots of fun. We came to Korea expecting it to be like China, but it isn’t. The architecture in Seoul isn’t as beautiful as in Shanghai, but the average home looks nicer and cleaner. The apartments in Shanghai for most people run from shacks to rusty looking places in need of paint. There are some beautiful apartments in China but they are very expensive, and mostly for expats whose businesses subsidize their rent (like ours does). Here the regular apartments look kept up and nicer, at least from the outside.

The whole city looks cleaner. In Shanghai, only the tiny shops in dirty streets have the best deals. Here in Seoul the shopping was cheap and in fun looking places. Traffic in Seoul is different from Shanghai. Seoul doesn’t have all the bicycles and electric scooters we see in Shanghai. Drivers in Korea stop for pedestrians, and they don’t honk as much. In Korea, the public toilets are mostly real toilets instead of squat pots. Squat pots are ceramic holes in the ground. Most westerners don’t know how to use them at first.

We are in the Seorak mountains of Korea. Yesterday we took a bus from Seoul, which is on the western side of Korea, to Sokcho, which is on the eastern side of Korea. The whole trip took 2 ½ hours, and we went from coast to coast! We ate at a small diner near the bus station, which had a great wonton soup and another soup which had a kind of strange fermented soybean flavor that I didn’t like too much but Dad liked it, so we switched soups.

Then we took a taxi (about $16, more expensive than in China) a little way up the mountain to our wonderful hotel. It is a beautiful British style hotel called the Kensington Stars Hotel. It is right outside the National park entrance, so we can walk five minutes to the park. Yesterday we took a cable car up to the top of a mountain. At the top were some rock formations that reminded me of Snow Canyon. They weren’t red, but the rounded shapes were really easy to climb up. We climbed up quite a way. When we came down, it was dark. The lights of Sokcho gleamed in the distance.

Today Dad and I went to Seoraksan National Park again and climbed a mountain. In Asia climbing mountains usually involves stairs. Today’s hike ended with a very long system of stairs and ladders. The path had also been “paved” with large flat rocks that probably come in very handy during the rainy season. We are here in the dryer fall, when they aren’t so necessary. The terrain on the way up was deciduous forest. I could almost imagine I was in the Appalachians until I came to a huge statue of Buddha and a temple complex. We climbed to the top of a huge rock formation that reminded me of the southwestern USA. It was granite, not sandstone, though. I had a serious case of jelly legs when we finished that climb. I didn’t have jelly legs after Angels Landing in Zion’s park, but I really did today. At the top was a view of the mountain below, the ocean in the distance, and a guy selling souvenirs and candy bars from his stand. Kind of like finding a McDonald’s at the top of Mt. Everest! One nice thing about the hike was that at regular points there were refreshment stands and nice bathrooms. They don’t have bathrooms in the middle of hikes in the U.S. , but sometimes I would like them to! Halfway down the hike we stopped and had an overpriced onion pancake. It was very tasty, with lots of green onions and seafood in an eggy crepe. I needed the rest and the conversation with Portuguese man and his Brazilian wife was very pleasant. I find that all the westerners we encounter in Korea this week are on vacation from their jobs in China, just like we are.