Chuseok (추석) is a Korean holiday that is similar to American Thanksgiving. An ancient celebration of the beginning of the harvest season, it falls on a different date each year. Chuseok is always on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month – September 30th this year.
All of the EPIK teachers were given three days off of work, which meant a five-day weekend. Several groups went to Japan and China, but a few of us chose to stay in Korea and relax. I went with four friends to Hongdae (홍대), a famous neighborhood in Seoul. Hongdae is short for Hong-Ik University, which is surrounded by a vibrant neighborhood full of cool restaurants, bars, clubs and art.
We stayed in a hostel near the center of Hongdae called Backpackers Space. It was a cheap, comfortable and friendly place to stay. We didn’t have any complaints during our three-day stay. The first night, we went out to the bars in Hongdae. I was pretty tired, so I went home early, but the rest of the group stayed out and had a lot more fun. They met several new friends and found some cool bars.
On the second day, we took the subway to Gangnam (강남), where we spent most of the day. That name probably sounds familiar to you, thanks to the song Gangnam Style. What you may not know is that it is a famous neighborhood in Seoul, best known for high-end shopping and wealthy residents. For the first time since arriving in Korea, I felt like I was in an American city. The streets were wide, the neighborhood was clean and the architecture was beautiful. Add to it the fact that many of the stores were high-end American names, and it felt a bit like Market Street in San Francisco.
The next morning, we caught a bus from Seoul to the largest amusement park in Korea, called Everland. We spent several hours just trying to get there – missing the first three buses because they were so crowded. But the fourth time was a charm. After standing in a bus for an hour, we were in line for tickets at a surprisingly nice and clean park. In fact, Everland was the cleanest amusement park I’ve ever seen. The area just inside the entrance reminded me of the theme park in Shrek.
When we first arrived, the park was a bit crowded, but not terrible. We made a beeline for a roller-coaster at the back of the park – supposedly the biggest wooden roller coaster in the world. I was all set to ride, until I saw a sign warning of an 80 minute wait. My friend Rowell (USA) and I decided to wander around and find some other things to do. We rode a couple of rides, but found that the lines for everything were getting ridiculously long. Before we knew it, the park was packed. Those of you who know me know that this is my nightmare. It would be awful in the US, where there is some concept of personal space; it was absolute torture in Korea, people don’t think twice about bumping and pushing their way through crowds.
I decided that a good snack might calm me down. I was surprised to find that all of the food was reasonably priced. Everything was a bit more expensive than at a normal restaurant, but the prices were not ridiculous, like at parks in the US. Even the beer was 3,500 won (~$3.25). Some of the snacks didn’t seem too appetizing, though.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the park and riding a few of the rides. By dinner time, we were all worn out and hungry. We all realized that we are getting older – our knees hurt, we were tired, and we all just wanted to sit down. We found a diner on the way out of the park. It was just like America…except not really.
I don’t have any interest in going back to Everland, since it caters to children and people who really love roller-coasters (and I’m neither), but it was a fun and inexpensive way to spend a day in Seoul. By the time we got back to the hostel, we were all too tired to go out. We fell asleep before midnight and had plenty of energy the next day for the trip home.
Until next time.