The weekend got off to a good start. I tried a Korean style burger joint that reminded me of a place in Perryton, Texas, called The Dixie Dog: flavorful and greasy. The fries weren’t greasy and spiced really well. In the afternoon I checked on my route to the military base near the Museum of Korean History. This was to be my first time venturing beyond the ‘hood, taking the bus and subway without Chelsea. My time to meet Ed (my buddy from the Air Force) was 5 P.M. Between putting some cash on my T-money card (transportation), catching the bus and subway it should take a little less than one hour. I figured I should give myself some “get lost, then get found time” so left an extra 30 minutes early. Good decision Scott.
The bus ride went fine, and the first leg of the metro went well, but then came the transition. I got on the right train only going the wrong way. It only took me 7 stops to figure out I was going away from my destination. So I exited the train, got around to the opposite side of the station, and re-boarded the train going in the right direction. I reached my destination around 4:55 and rode the escalator to the top. Then I had to make a decision; go right or go left. Naturally, I went the wrong way (you would think an Air Force navigator would not get lost... Put me at 30, 000 feet in the air and I have no problems, but on the ground it’s a different story I guess!) I borrowed a kind Korean’s phone, called Ed and told him where I was and that I would be a little late. He laughed because the first time Chelsea went out to visit them, she did the same thing. Like daughter, like father; great minds think alike.
I had a wonderful visit with Ed and Heather. We went to dinner at the Dragon Hill Lodge, which is a very nice place with lots of options. We settled on the steak buffet. At 9 P.M. I figured it was time to had back. I needed to reverse my routing, and I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult. With the subway, my learning curve was high, meaning I did not go the wrong direction. My challenge came at the end of the journey when I had to decide on which exit to take out of the subway station; I had 8 choices. I picked correctly, and it took a few minutes to get my bearings, but my internal GPS kicked in and I caught the right bus going in the right direction. Two kind Koreans on the bus told me which stop to get off at and one hour after leaving the base, I was walking through the door back at Chelsea’s apartment.
Saturday came early, up at 4 A.M. since we had to be at the USO office by 7:15 A.M. to check in for our trip to the DMZ. Chelsea had been saving this event for when I came to visit. All was well except for on thing: the weather. It is the monsoon season here, so rain is the order of the day, and we had it all day.
The stop points along the way were cool. First was Conference Row at Panmunjom. This was where the Armistice was signed. Then a railway station on the border to connect the North to the South. The the most interesting stop was Tunnel #3.
At Conference Row as we waited to enter one of the Conference buildings, we were photographed by some soldiers from the North across the way in their building (or so we were told by our guide.) There were at least 6 armed and ready soldiers standing watch to ensure nothing happened to us. There had been several instances of the North trying to provoke the South into resuming the conflict. Then there were two more soldiers inside the building. Most of the time we could not shoot pictures, but when we could, we did. We did cross the line of demarcation between North and South Korea in the conference room, so for a few minutes I was in North Korea.
The second stop was the railroad station. At one time the railroad connected the entire peninsula, but the Korean War destroyed the rail line. The South rebuilt the station and it does nothing but wait for the North to rebuild their portion of the railroad in hopes of unification. We did get a ticket to travel to Pyongyang but there was no train to take us.
The final and most interesting place was Tunnel #3. This was one of four such tunnels built by the North that would be used to attack Seoul and conquer the South. We were able to descend several hundred feet to the bottom of the tunnel. The tunnel wasn’t any more then 2 meters high and two meters wide. Glad I wore the hard hat, since I smacked my head on the top of the tunnel several times. The North is hell-bent on reunifying the peninsula under their style of government, and these tunnels are proof. They were discovered in the 70s, but there could be more as yet undiscovered.
By then it was only 3 pm and we were exhausted. However, the day was still young. The best way to reenergize is caffeine and sugar. We had a quick stop a coffee shop for a cup of joe and a chocolate waffle, then we were ready for more. Since we were close, we opted for the Dragon Hill Spa. I got my first experience in the world of Asian bathhouses. In Korean, it is called a jjimjilbang. I spent about an hour in and out of a hot sauna and an ice sauna. Then I decided to have a body scrub and massage. My masseuse stood about 5 feet tall and after scrubbing all the dead skin off my body he proceeded to beat me and twist me like a pretzel. But boy did it feel good when he was done! After three hours in the spa is was time to start heading back to our part of the city, which means another hour plus metro/bus ride.
We dined at one of Chelsea’s haunts and ate: dakkgalbi. It is spicy chicken, veggies (cabbage, sesame leaves and sweet potato) and rice cakes. It was quite spicy and we got the version without any extra spices added, just the standard spicy. My nose is starting to run just thinking about it!
The 4 AM wakeup is now catching with me. Tomorrow won’t be this busy, but we are planning to visit two palaces, the War Museum and maybe lunch with Ed, Heather and the kids. Until next time.