Wednesday, March 30, 2016

China/Korea 2009: days 20-22 (Seoul)

Seoul days 3-5: Saturday, Sunday, Monday 10/17-19/09
Here are the photos from Saturday, Sunday, and Monday

Took a bus back from Daejeon to the Seoul airport on Saturday morning, then caught the train back into the center of town. I checked in at another Ibis Hotel (a sister property to the one I had stayed in the previous weekend) and went back out to the Namdaemun Market. I love local markets and seeing how similar and different they are from what I'm used to. I didn't really have much on my list of things to do for the weekend except enjoy it.

The one big thing I had, though, was the Texas vs Oklahoma football game. I had made arrangements with the local Texas Exes alumni group via email to meet up, as they were going to be watching the game at a bar that was going to stay open past normal hours, and watch the game over the internet from someone's Slingbox back in Detroit. Due to the time differential, the game started at 1am on Sunday in Seoul, and I left around 5am. Made it back to my hotel to see the sun rise around 6:30.

Didn't mean to sleep the whole day away, but I woke up around 4:30pm on Sunday, having slept the entire day. The only thing left on my list to do was to go up to the Seoul Tower, which I had planned to do during the day, but oh well. There's a park at the base of the tower where the kids were playing in the laser light show, and wireframe models of people flying that were illuminated after dark. Had dinner at Cibo Cima for Italian, then made my way via metro over to the Hongdae area for drinks and a look around the night life part of town.

Monday morning was a travel day. Off to the airport and my long flight back to Atlanta, about 14 hours - though due to the time changes, it would only be an hour or so after leaving ICN that I'd get into ATL. On the flight out, I was stuck in the middle on the left side of the plane (a 747 in 3-5-3 configuration), on the flight back it had improved slightly to be the #2 seat in the middle section, with one guy on my left and nobody on my right in the #3 seat (but couldn't move there because the #4 and #5 seats were occupied). So at least I had an armrest to myself. Had the Korean food option over the American option, for one last Korean meal. My flight from Atlanta to Houston at least gave me an aisle seat with nobody in the middle.

China/Korea 2009: days 15-19 (Daejeon)

Daejeon days 1-5: Monday 10/12/09 to Friday 10/16/09
Here are the photos from this week at the conference in Daejeon (10/12 and 10/13-16)

This week was spent at the 60th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), venturing out only at night for dinner. I stayed at the 007 Hotel, whose neon sign was the James Bond 007 logo.

China/Korea 2009: day 14 (Seoul/DMZ/Daejeon)

Seoul day 2: Sunday 10/11/09
Map of my Seoul and DMZ stops, this day in blue; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Placeholder until I get my notes together:
  • Left the hotel around 8am, drove up to Imjingak and saw the Memorial Altar and the bridge that used to bring North and South Korean families together. Saw the Dorasan train station, which will eventually link up to the North and allow rail travel to the Trans Siberian Railway and the Trans Chinese Railway. At the DMZ, there was an overlook to see into North Korea, and we visited the 3rd Tunnel built from the North into the South in preparation for an eventual invasion. 
  • Drove back to Seoul for lunch and some time to explore the Namdaemun Market and a bit of the surrounding city.
  • After a few hours drive, we made it to Daejeon and I found my hotel, dropped off my stuff, and went out for some hot pot for dinner and a quick tour of the area nearby.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

China/Korea 2009: day 13 (Seoul)

Seoul day 1: Saturday 10/10/09
Map of my Seoul stops, this day in blue; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Through the International Astronautical Conference (IAC) planners, I booked a side tour of Seoul for the weekend immediately preceding the conference (which started Monday 10/12). I flew into Incheon Airport from Hong Kong on the overnight flight and went to the area set up by the IAC to handle travel arrangements. They set me up on a bus going into town that would drop me off at the hotel. The tour picked up at the IBIS Gangnam hotel, so I figured I'd stay there anyway on Saturday night, we'd have a day tour on Saturday of Seoul and then Sunday we'd go off to the DMZ and then be dropped off at the convention center in Daejeon. Our van only held about 15 people so it was a comfortable size. And it was no state-run tour to fleece us out of money, like in Beijing.

The first stop was the Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in the late 14th century. The palace was very Chinese-influenced, from the shape of the pagoda-like roofs and their totems on the roof edges to the archways and interior design. Since I had just come from Beijing's temples a few days earlier, the similarities were obvious. Nearby the Palace is the National Folk Museum of Korea, where we spent about an hour. A few minutes away was the next stop, at the Jogyesa Temple, which is the largest Buddhist Temple in Seoul. Inside there are three giant golden (colored?) Buddhas, and it's an active temple so there were a number of people inside praying. We stopped for a hot pot lunch in a restaurant at the top of a tall building that had a panoramic view of Seoul. Hot Pot is a popular style of eating where the meat ingredients are boiled in oil and then mixed with other ingredients (vegetables like onions and lettuce, kim chee, etc.) and eaten in a lettuce wrap. 

After lunch we went down to Insadong and were given an hour or so to walk around. Insadong is a very crowded, very popular street market with everything from dried squid and other street food to antiques and calligraphy sets. I picked up another box of bandages, as my feet were still blistered from so much walking, starting back in Shanghai two weeks before. With the boat and bus trips in Hong Kong, plus a lot of driving in Seoul, my feet were finally getting the rest they needed but I wasn't totally healing yet. Next up was the Cheonggyecheon Stream, a public recreation space in downtown Seoul that was part of an urban renewal project just a few years before. Nearby is an exhibit with flags of all nations that took part in the allied forces with the South during the Korean War. The river is sunken down from the ground level, with shopping and businesses at ground level. There's a JS Texas Bar that I sadly did not get a chance to go to but would totally have gone there based on the name alone. 

Back at the hotel, I rested for a bit until I was hungry, then went wandering the Gangnam area til I found something that looked interesting. I settled on a place called Scarlett The Shrimp Restaurant that had, well, a lot of shrimp dishes. I had a shrimp Caesar salad and some sweet & sour shrimp with rice as I was in the mood for something I was familiar with.

Scarlett restaurant (shrimp & modern American), grilled shrimp Caesar salad and chili shrimp w fried rice.

China/Korea 2009: day 12 (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong day 3: Friday 10/9/09
Map of my Hong Kong stops, this day in purple; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Because I had to buy a new camera, that took up the part of the morning that I was going to try to do something else. Even though I mapped out all 3 camera shops, I couldn't find any of them, and of course I ended up getting ripped off by the shop I did go into (Intelligent Camera on Nathan, don't shop there). Basically, it was a bait-and-switch. They had the camera I had found online, and it was significantly cheaper than in the US (like a $300 camera for $200). They used an old carbon-copy credit card machine to get my number, but then they said I had to wait while they got the camera from another of their stores. While waiting, they upsold me to a different camera which looked to me like it was better, but I had not researched it and knew nothing about the specs. I did like the new one better, so they ripped up my carbon receipt and sold me the other camera for $300. When I got back to my room and looked it up, I found the camera listed for about $175 in the US. I got upsold to a cheaper camera! Nothing I could do about it, though, except admit I got suckered. 

Did my Blue Bus tour on the Kowloon side, which took us to a number of places for walking around and shopping, including the Temple Street Night Market, and the shopping districts for electronics, sports wear, and ladies fashion. I got off at the Jade Market, a couple blocks from the Night Market, and I spent a couple of hours shopping and sightseeing. The Night Market, of course, wasn't really open much in the daytime, but I got to look at the daytime farmer's market and the Tin Hau Temple. The bus drove down the west side of Kowloon over to the southeastern coast near the Coliseum. Then with my new camera I retraced my steps a bit to get pictures of the things I had lost yesterday, including the Space Museum, and Tea at the Peninsula which I had accidentally taken with my old camera's internal memory instead of the flash card. (Note: they strongly prefer that you don't take movies inside the Peninsula.) 

Then for some relaxation (finally!) I took the sunset cruise of the Harbour on the Star Ferry. A really nice place to watch from, and you can catch it from either the Central or Kowloon stations. I went back to the terminal at Central to grab a bite to eat and wait for the special nighttime cruise, which is on the water in the middle of the Harbour at 8pm when the light show starts. You get to do a tour of the Harbour and watch the show, so it's like twice as long. Bring extra camera batteries and flash cards. Both tours are definitely worth it, but in retrospect I would have done them on different days instead of back to back. After the cruise, I went back to my hotel to pick up my bags (having checked out that morning) and head to the airport for my flight to Seoul after midnight.

The main things in Hong Kong I had marked off that I wanted to do but didn't get to were Stanley Market and Aberdeen, which I could have done with another half day. Oh well, next time!

China/Korea 2009: day 11 (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong day 3: Thursday 10/8/09
Map of my Hong Kong stops, this day in green; no photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

I lost my camera at the end of this day, so I'm going by memory, pamphlets, and limited notes on my iPod since I don't have my photos with their time stamps. 

With only a couple days left in Hong Kong, I started going through my list of things left to do and prioritizing and organizing them. I went to the Space Museum again, this time it was open. It was relatively cheap and had some cool stuff but being in the space business some of their info was dated. They did have more on the Chinese space program than I had known before, though. East along the river from the Space Museum is the Intercontinental and the New World Center, and on the east side of that is where a bus tour starts. I saw the bus on my first day, but already had my Peak and Macau trips planned out, so I waited to do my city tour at the end of the trip rather than the beginning (of course, I should have done this first) and after picking up the pamphlets the night before at the Star Ferry terminal, it had many of the things I wanted to do. It's called The Big Bus Company, and they have a Kowloon bus (the Blue Bus) and a Hong Kong bus (the Red Bus) tour. You can buy both but you have 24 hours to use them. I did the Red Bus tour this day, which started at Central. It's a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus, with an audio tour playing from included earpieces. Mine never worked, so I used my iPod headphones which have the same plug. Go to http://www.bigbustours.com for more info, but I'll hit the highlights of what I did. 

The Red Bus drives around all the major buildings on Hong Kong island, talking about the history of them, the unusual architecture (like the IFC, HSBC, and Bank of China Buildings), the Convention Center, the differences between how things used to be under British rule until 1999 and how they are now with Chinese rule (like the PLA HQ building), the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, and stops at the Peak Tram and Lan Kwai Fong. I got off at the tram stop and went up to the Peak so I could see the skyline in the daytime. Still spectacular. Afterwards, I took the Star Ferry back to Kowloon so that I could head up to the Temple Street Night Market (which is several blocks long) for dinner and shopping. That is a giant flea market where they sell everything from power converters to knockoff purses to fresh fruit to sex toys, and there are hole-in-the-wall restaurants all over the place. I had dinner at a place where I pointed to pictures on a menu for what I wanted to eat (English subtitles, I got Vietnamese stir fry). 

By 11 or so I was ready to go back to the hotel, so I found the Yau Ma Tei metro station and took it back to the Tsim Sha Tsui station. I had just exited the station going up to the street level when I realized I had left my camera on the metro. The guard told me I'd have to leave my contact info with lost & found in the morning. Adios, camera! Now, if you're going to buy a new camera, Hong Kong is a great place to do so, but you have to know what you're looking for and how much it costs. If you don't know, they'll rip you off. On my way back to the hotel I saw them filming a scene from a TV show that I was told is like a Hong Kong version of CSI. At my hotel, I spent a couple hours online looking for cameras and figured out what I wanted and how much it cost, and found the locations of 3 shops who were known to be reputable.

Shakeys pizza. Pineapple chicken salad, penne carbonara, mango daiquiri. Dinner in temple st night mkt, Vietnamese stir fry beef noodles w egg rolls. Lost camera on subway, saw scene from HK Police Force (CSI)

China/Korea 2009: day 10 (Hong Kong & Macau)

Hong Kong & Macau day 3: Wednesday 10/7/09
Map of my Hong Kong stops and my Macau stops, this day in yellow; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

This was the day for my trip to Macau. Bring your passport, they stamp you leaving Hong Kong, entering Macau, leaving Macau, and entering Hong Kong. There are two companies that travel between the two island cities, New World First Ferry which leaves on the half hour from the Kowloon Ferry Terminal, and Turbojet which leaves every 15 minutes from a special ferry dock just west of Central on the Hong Kong side. They're only a couple dollars apart, so whichever one you take depends on timing and location. Make sure you get a copy of the departure schedules, you don't want to be stuck overnight in Macau if you don't have to be. I bought a one-way ticket on New World, since it was on the Kowloon side, but their last boat leaves at 2230 and I wasn't sure if I'd be there or not. Turbojet leaves around midnight for their last boat. 

It's about 1h15m ride from Kowloon to the Macau Terminal. Customs each way isn't bad. Despite my problems with unofficial guides in Beijing earlier, I hired one in the terminal to take me around the island. There are loads of bus tours, but I was willing to pay more for a personal tour, and although it was a total crap shoot as to who I got, I lucked out and picked a good one. We negotiated a price of about $100 US for 3 hours in the car, and he drove me around. I had a couple of maps and a guidebook so I had an idea of what I wanted to see, but he covered everything and then some, so I was very pleased. We pretty much stuck to the central peninsula area, given our time constraints, but I don't think there's really much to see outside the central peninsula area. In some cases he'd drop me off at point A and said to meet him at point B in 45 minutes and I could walk around the area at my leisure. I didn't leave Kowloon until noon and by the time I was finished with lunch (a local pub called La Comedie Vous CafĂ©, where he waited outside for me to eat) it was after 2, so I only had 4-5 hours anyway til dark; I suppose I just would have done more wandering around sightseeing had I had more time. 

We started out going through the downtown/casino area (there are 5 US casinos like Wynn and MGM and about 20 Chinese), and then went to the Macau Tower at the southern end of the peninsula, which was an extra fee. The view from the top is amazing, and they've got a glass floor to look down. They also have a walk outside the tower (tethered) and a bungee jump, which you might have seen on The Amazing Race. We drove south across one of the bridges to the southern island of Co-Tai and rode around a bit, showing off the casinos (like the Venetian) and sights, then back north across one of the other bridges and up to the Largo de Senado area, an oddly European style plaza in the midst of the Chinese. I had about 30-45 minutes on my own here, but could have lasted longer. We drove a few blocks over to the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul, dating back over 400 years, for a free tour. During the trip, the driver (who spoke excellent English) gave me a history lesson, pointed out interesting sites dating to Colonial days, and was in general very good. [His name is James Kan, (853) 6686-8909.]  

He dropped me off at the MGM Grand Casino, where I played for a little while, and then went to the Wynn where I won enough at blackjack to pay for dinner. (However, blackjack and craps are almost non-existent over there, it's all baccarat, and I mean like hundreds of tables.) I went to the Grand Lisboa casino to see a non-US place, and ended up eating at The 8 for Cantonese. I finished dinner around 10 and made it back to the terminal after the last boat on New World First left (2230), so I took Turbojet back to the Hong Kong/Macau terminal near Central. I got in too late for the ferry so I took the metro from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui Station on Kowloon and went back to my hotel.

Macau ferry, private tours at terminal for $600 ($73) for 2 hrs. Lunch at La Comedie vous cafe. Good tour, add 90 for tower and 200 for extra hr in Cotai. Drop at MGM, lost 160. Wynn looks just like Encore, won 385. Dinner at Grand Lisboa - steamed crab claw w ginger in wine, shredded chicken with pomelo and a honey lime sauce. Dessert a golden crunchy 8 cake w chocolate, Cointreau sauce, Graham cracker