Tag Archives: Seoul

Korean hiking

Stereotypically, I was told, Koreans are going hiking in the mountains on weekends. Fully equipped with the latest outdoor gear they would climb everything from a small hill to the rough mountains. I could not really believe it until I went hiking on Sunday morning. I was waiting for a friend at a subway station where hordes of elderly people in the shiniest outdoor gear were rushing by. The subway to Suraksan station was filled with them. Backpack with water supplies for several days, hiking boots for alpine tours, windbreaker, sun hat, everything. And I thought I am a preparing person. When we started to walk from the subway towards the hiking trail we passed numerous outdoor shops offering discount gear for those who are still in need of some more equipment. Luckily, we had all we needed. A big bottle of water, some crackers, and a juice-pack filled with soju to celebrate at the peak of 600-something meter high Suraksan.

We started hiking up the well maintained and comfortable hiking trail, which even had a air pressure shoe cleaning station at the entry gate. To avoid the masses we decided to follow the routes less taken and ended up crawling small pathways up the mountain. Sometimes we hit the main trail and had to follow the stream of hikers uphill. It was impressive how those who could be my grandparents were still fit enough to hike up the quite steep and partially slippery trail.

The closer we got to the top the steeper and narrower the trail became. Some parts were even replaced by stairs to make it easier. The best views were from large rocks along the way, where sometimes you had to climb up using tiny support steps carved into the stone and rappel down with ropes. Finally something that was somewhat challenging and required to be attentive to not fall 20, 30, or even 50 meters deep between the rocks. The reward for all the climbing was an impressive view across parts of Seoul. Skyscrapers between mountains as far as the eye could see. All just one big city. The perfect activity for a Sunday and a nice 2-3 hour workout to get to the top, and enjoy the peak-soju.

Working Seoul

When I was in Seoul last year I experienced the first cold days of the year with nights below 0 and frozen lakes in the morning. As I did not bring any warm cloths and was planning to go to Southeast Asia next, buying warm clothes was out of the question. I had to leave. So I asked my friends what would be the perfect time to come back, and they all agreed that either spring or fall would be perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, not too humid. Luckily I seized the opportunity to work a few weeks at Korea University in September, ideal time for a trip to Korea and neighboring Japan and Shanghai.

A350 – where eco is fun again

This time I flew with Lufthansa from Munich to Seoul, partly because it was only slightly more expensive than a connecting flight via Beijing, and partly because Lufthansa is using their brand new A350 on this route. The plane was introduced earlier this year and has even in the economy class surprisingly spacious seats, both in width and depth. The in-seat display is huge and quite sensitive. No more punching the seat to click. However, the selection was depressingly mediocre. I hardly found movies I wanted to watch and TV series were even worse. The real surprise was the dinner. I had the Korean beef with rice and kimchi plus a small tube of hot sauce. Finally plane food that had flavor! The 10 hours flew by and at 5:30 in the morning I was in Korea.

The first days were all pretty similar. I went to the office in the morning, had lunch with my lab mates and dinner with friends and lab mates, followed by drinks until late after midnight. Anam, the area around the university, is full of bars and restaurants which cater to the students that make up the majority of the people there. Also the number of non-Asian people you see on the streets is way higher than in other parts of Seoul, which gives the neighborhood an international and easy-to-immerse vibe, even without speaking Korean.

Sing like nobody’s listening!

Leaderboard. I’ll never gonna give you up!

On Friday after our labmeeting we traditionally went for dinner and drinks with a small pub crawl through Anam’s basement bars until my colleagues decided to give me a real Korean experience: noribang. Noribang is the Korean version of Karaoke, where you rent a small room, usually in a basement, which is equipped with a karaoke machine and some sofas. You select from the impressive list of Korean songs or the not quite as extensive but still sufficiently variable list of western songs, pick up the mic and give it a go. The screen shows the lyrics and plays some videos in the background. But the videos do not necessarily match the music you’re singing. My opening song “Fear of the dark” by Iron Maiden was backed by a group of 8 or 9 Korean girls dancing to what I guess would be a K-Pop song. It gave the song a different but still somehow suitable atmosphere.

Beasts from the deep

Grabbing the octopus!

Saturday we went to the big fish market to try some fresh Korean fish. Walking through the hall with all the touts circling in on us it was not easy to focus on all the fish and other sea creatures that were on sale. From gigantic crabs to tiny shrimp, from big mussels to small octopuses. We walked around and my Korean colleague recommended to try one fish as sashimi and one very peculiar dish: raw octopus freshly chopped. The special feature is that the tentacles are still moving even after the octopus is chopped due to the nerves still sending signals. We got our fish and octopus and were led to a adjacent restaurant where the food was prepared and served. The sashimi was nothing extraordinary. Good, fresh white fish with black skin, a little bit too chewy for my taste, but ok. For me the big challenge was the octopus. Seeing the parts of the tentacle still moving, the suckers still sticking to the plate, so strongly that I could hardly pick them up with my chopsticks. Every year several people die because the tentacles get stuck in their throat. But the animal died to be eaten, so it would be a shame to waste it. I picked up a piece and ate it. A few strong bites on the surprisingly tender tentacle and it was gone. No tickling in my throat, no moving, all gone. The taste was really nice and fresh. But still, next time I’ll get my octopus cooked again.