The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

    DEUTERONOMY 29:29

Yeouido - Seoul, South Korea.

Posted: 16 October 2011

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Kita, the Korean International Trade Association invited some medical companies to send at least 2 representatives to participate in the 6th Gangwon International Medical Equipment Show (GMES 2011). Kita will pay half the air fare and a shared twin room for 3 nights from the 5th to the 7th of October 2011 held in a suburban township of Wonju, 3 1/2 hour by bus journey from Incheon International Airport. There were more than 90 attendees from 38 countries and interpreters for Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Japanese were enlisted.

Before I could go, I told my boss that I first got to find a replacement pastor. I approached Brother Nestor of Manila who initialy said he could come but subsequently was unable to because his passport was held in the immigration whilst making travel plans to preach in Germany as an invited speaker. He suggested Bro Rocky and I said fine but again, Bro Rocky could only made it on the 5th whereas I had booked my flight to leave for Korea on the 4th. This time God works ahead of us, as Bro Louise Fong visited Manila in August, he met Bro Rolando Alisan Gensis, or Bro Lanlan for short. I was in fact trying to contact him since his last visit to Singapore in 2005??!!

Bro Lanlan said he got to renew his passport which had expired. We thought it was simply going to the nearest immigration office (177 miles by motorbike) and get the renewed passport. Bro Lanlan was shocked to be told that they could only return his passport on Oct 31st? More than a month to process a renewal? I believed everyone kind of resigned to this sad state of affair by claiming it was new government policy. Faith went into action. I knew it was not by chance that Bro Fong went to Manila and contacted Bro Lanlan whom I wanted to meet after such a long time., I sms him to speak to the officer in charge and leave the rest to God. Yes God did answer and Bro Lanlan got his passport on Friday, one week after submission and 4 days before his flight to Singapore. Later Bro Lanlan told how he was held back in Manila International Airport as they did not believe he had traveled to Singapore before, that it was not possible to get his passport renewed within 1 week, what usually take 2 months.. Again God touched the heart of the chief officer to release him after he produced a gift from Bro Henry Goi in the form of a book mark used for his bible reading, substantial evidence that he was telling the truth that he had traveled to Singapore. See, it is important to always read your bible.

I met him at the Changi  Int. Airport on the 1st of Oct. Coming all the way from his home town from the Visayas island to Singapore was no mean feat. He had to avoid the typhoon and rain traveling 8 hours on the bus to Manila, stayed overnight in Bro Nestor's church and went early to the airport on the 1st. Something us Singaporeans taken for granted, the ease and comfort how things work for us here. I planned to stay 3 days longer in Seoul and wanted Bro Lanlan to stay at least for a a fortnight, but he said he got to be back in his home church by 13th latest so he flew off on Thursday, just two days after I came home on the 11th.

It was an awakening. Wonju was good to visit, a beautiful small town of nearly 300,000 people, nice downtown area with modern facilities and cheap taxis. Yonsei University is well known for their expertise in the Biomedical Engineering field. We stayed at the large Inter Burgo hotel (US$80/night) throughout the 3 exhibiting days, our host treated us to grand comfort, international food lavishly laid out. Tempting and inviting but sadly at my age, overeating is a no no affair. How ironic, such good food but we are too old to eat them all. As I had arrived one day earlier, I thought I go downtown to see some sights and get some groceries. What prompted me to go out from the hotel, was the hotel cafeteria closed after 3 pm. Afterwhich, an orange juice cost 9,000 won and 1/2 dozen buffalo wings a whopping 25,000 won. That was all I wanted to eat before dinner having skipped lunch. The hotel staff hailed a taxi for me, there was no surcharge, I fired up my iPad 2, opened the Learn Korean apps and played, "I want to go to the supermarket or departmental store" in Korean in a sweet female voice. The driver understood because I told him something similar to what I saw in the Bus terminal last night where my Airport Bus dropped me. Double confirmed, he brought me right into the center of the cross road in downtown Wonju for 3,700 won. I thought I could be generous and gave him 5,000 making his day. Now where could I eat? Korean letters and pictures of hot pots scattered over a few places. The downtown area looked exactly like Ximenting in Taipei. Substitute the Mandarin with Korean. Walking a bit further I found Isaac (a deli food chain), a husband and wife team selling juices, toasted bread of all sorts and at least a hot coffee. The toast was perfect and the coffee thin but at a price of 1800 + 1,900 (coffee) it was magnific! Seated comfortably inside, I could then take my time to survey the environment and saw a supermarket. A young western man, backpacker was loitering around. There were so many cosmetic shops that not being a girl kind of becoming a mismatch. Anyhow, I went in the supermart and loaded myself with all the right stuffs, most of the items cheaper than ours by 10%, browsed through some of the shops similar to Far East Square, and decided to take another cup of nice coffee in Baskin Robbins as it was located right at a junction. The sun was out and the weather perfect, as a business shirt was adequate for that hour. I expected to see alot of LG and Samsung stuffs but there were more Iphone and Ipad accessories on sale than local brands. Olleh and ST comms, seem to be the two major mobile network providers. I realised then, that if I ever wanted to come back to visit Korea, I needed to study the written language first comprising of 14 consonants, 10 vowels and another 24? mixed words, can't be a deterrant to learning it. One thing I picked up about learning languages. If you want to sound good in that language, you better learned the appropriate sounds through a real man's voice rather than a female and vice versa. I heard a black man speaking Taiwanese in Taipei and he obviously have a Taiwanese girlfriend or had been influenced by a girl as he spoke in high female pitch. Shi Ma? Ze ge, ni de yi jian ne? Grrrl.......and he was featured in their TV show going round Taipei enjoying some of their  hot spring baths. 

Seeing a taxi queue, I hopped onto the one in line, showed him the "Take me to Inter Burgo hotel name card". I got back in less than 3 hours of wandering and the total taxi fare was just under US$10. The hotel was located high up nearer to the beautiful backdrop of the mountain range. Tracking up these mountain ranges and hunting wild game or animals must be some of the favourite passtimes days of yore. There was some sort of Basketball tournament going on as our hotel is near the Sports Gymnasium and I saw a few really tall Koreans probably their National Team members. I just sensed their star behaviour when we were in the same lift. Better than watching Wonder Girls or 2PM.

Ah, but my hotel Kobos in Seoul booked through Zuji.com.sg was an amazing discovery. It only cost me S$90 (US$73) a night. I was given a deluxe room with built in mirrors(ceiling and walls) and jacuzzi tub with an adjacent massage type of shower manifold all fully working. A hot and cold water dispenser thrown in. It was designed as a honeymoon hotel but over the years, it gradually adapted to be a 3 star business hotel and walked in customers pay US$131 per night. The steam sauna was not working but I guessed they disabled this as it was dangerous to use especially if kids were also checked into these kind of rooms.

I was trying to  help a business colleague from Cameroon booked there but he said it was too expensive so we wanted to look for a cheaper motel for him but the day was far spent, having followed the free conducted tour orgainized by Kita visiting Samsung Delight showroom,  the National Museum and the Imperial Palace on Saturday the 8th. The tour bus dropped us at the Seoul Station and we took a cab for 9,700 won to our hotel guided by the roaming phone for the cab driver to speak to the receptionist how to get to the hotel in no time. We don't understand a single word of Korean except for some simple greetings but the phone kind of make sure the cab driver don't take longer than necessary to bring us right to the front of Kobos by 8:30 pm. We used the computer in my room, searched and found a hotel at US$40 per night but he said he got no VISA card to book online. I was too wary for these kind of games to offer my card and I suggested to take down the address and go find that place via subway. In fact earlier, the guy from Dubai asked for  the same thing and I remembered there was a newly built "M" Hotel. Searched the internet and found the hotel number. They also wanted 131,000 won for 3 nights but being last minute, yet they do have the room available for 3 nights, The guy said he would take it. I told him why don't we share the cab as our hotels were near each other. Instead, when the tour ended at the Imperial Palace, he just scooted off without waiting for me because he got only one luggage bag and there were many taxis waiting at the ground. So he don't need the tour bus ride to the train station. Till today, I do not understand why he did not wait for me to share the cab. I guessed as I have shown him how to do everything without knowing Korean, he just don't need me anymore. Back to my Cameroon friend. (note: 22th Jan 2012: apparently, I was told he did go missing and the group was hunting for him for a while holding everyone back till they found him).

First turn right, then turn left to find the subway entrance the receptionist instructed us. We thought that was easy but instead we took a right, then another right before losing our way but what do I see? Right in front of me was a large Neon lit Cross, and the English words said Full Gospel Assembly. There was a letter in front which I did not read but it was Yoido Full Gospel Assembly. The Rev David Choyonggi' own church!!  Today's membership alone stands at a staggering 1,000,000 members with full services at 7 am, 9 am, 11 pm, 1 pm etc..  Instead of the usual choir, they have a full orchestra. I wanted to visit a brother's church as Bro Aldren had given me Bro Mike's phone number but somehow I did not manage to connect and later, while reading the bible, it was clear that I should not try too hard to contact the brother so I attended the full gospel church that Sunday morning. After service, there was another annex building showing Rev Cho's world wide trip especially when he visited Singapore in 2011 this year. What a mighty coincidence. Along the walk way, a stall was selling Korean gospel CDs and tapes and in front was a 20 footer container with a few sisters packing old clothing in bags for distribution.

My Cameroon friend decided to pay for one night and look for a cheaper accomodation on his own the next day. I did not know he was waiting for me for dinner and went out on my own, found a cafeteria named Klazer and ate a club sandwich and coffee for 13,000 won. (S$1 = 901 won). Instead of Delifrance, they have Paris Cafeteria and instead of Burger King, they have Lotteria, a poor equivalent though the beef burgers were tenderer. On hindsight, I should have waited for my Cameroon friend and practise my French on him. Something like, Quez que vous penser, nous'llon pour chercher quelque chose pour muncheon ce soir? I am sure that is not grammatically correct but off the cuff after so many years, I think it is a decent attempt.

As my flight leaves at 15:45 pm on Tuesday the 11th, I got only Monday to cover the whole city of Seoul or at least the places I was interested to visit. Today, with Iphone and Ipad, you can download ITourSeoul, Learn to speak Korean and Korean Subway map in a jiffy and you got everything  you need to make a pleasant trip or so I mistakenly thought.

Not accounting for the inability to understand Korean, the impending pneumonia I am having and the high cost of data roaming charges, (M1 reminded me via text that I have already incurred charges exceeding S$100 of data roaming) every thing would have been perfect. Actually it was near perfect.  Using the free computer in the room and by internet (I learned that every Korean is issued an ID when they use the internet?). I seach for "shoppin in Seoul" and got a list of what to do. So I planned just for one afternoon, to visit 4 places. Take the subway to Myeong Dong of Ming Dong in Chinese, walked backwards to the South Gate all 3 kilometers of walking through to shopping madness, right through the Seoul equivalent of Ladies market and into the Namdaemon/Hoehyeong area and you would have seen almost all the bargain shopping you ever need to see unless you are into antiques and flea market, then you got to wait for the appropriate days and season. The Kobos hotel published maps in 3 languages, Japanese, Mandarin and English. Actually the Mandarin map was more useful to us because the wordings sounded similar and you understand right away what is Myeong Dong, Ming Tian the "ming" San dian sui the Dong or cave.  Ming Dong or "famous cave".

My first attempt to take the subway failed and I had to ask a young Korean for help. He was wearing a worker's blue shirt, handsome and kind gentleman. Took the trouble to confirm his direction with the station master, told me his stop is same as mine as I have to change train there, but it turned out he took me all the way to the side which I should be, make sure I got onto the train and he walked back over to the opposite side to catch his train. Now in Singapore, that would not cost anything but here in Seoul, you actually have to exit the station to get to the other side and it would cost him an additional dollar. I had overbought lunch,  so I thought I gave him my spare portion, but he flatly refused. As I could not eat it anyway, I later gave it to a man selling Toilet Rolls in the street smoking away his hunger.

How I got the extra "brunch" order? I had skipped the hotel breakfast having tasted it on Sunday morning, I decided I try something else, something tastier. Before entering the subway entrance there was a Korean takeaway with a few tables inside. I went in, pointed at some pictures of Korean noodles and the staff there just looked at me in bewilderment. Then one of those sharp sweet looking lady, asked in Mandarin "Ni si zhong guo ren"? I replied "Bu si, si Xin Jia Po dan si, dong hua yi" , so we conversed and I said I wanted some noodles. She said, they don't have any noodles for lunch but only Udon. I said fine. And ordered an additional pork cutlet as the picture showed quite a small portion. To my surprise they both came in American size portions. Mine, these Koreans can eat. I ended up doggie bag the cutlet. One thing though, in such cold climate we get hungry again in less than 2 hours especially if you are walking a lot. That was why later I ended up eating this ice cream at 1500 won, another bargain. Told the seller I wanted only half the size but paid him the full price.

Second time, I came out of the subway the wrong way was when I wanted to go to Dongsan, to the computer store took the wrong gate and the kind staff in bright yellow traffic type of jacket willingly led me through the lift, passed through the gates for invalids with his special key and brought me to the right gate to board my train. Real Korean hospitality. Wish our MRT can encourage such gestures by holding regular drills for their staff and reward them accordingly. Be kind to strangers the bible said, for some have entertained angels unaware. Angels meaning ministers. God bless them richly.

These were some of the scenes that caught my fancy. See the picture on the right. It featured a row of three shops vying for your attention, with the cooked pig's head, paws and nice aunties included to enchant you to purchase from them with proof of their quality of being featured in Korean newspapers or TV or tourist "stars"  award.  What's so special about them? Succulently cooked with secret Ginseng recipe. Did I said "paws"? Pigs don't have "paws"? Go ahead, click on the picture and see the enlarged heads looking expectantly at you. Now again, being the Asian tourist at least we can read the word "deer" in Kanji and it says High Mountain Deer. Rimasu? (correction: Gao Lu usually refers to Il Hwa high quality Ginseng) So looking at the center of the pic, wrapped in Cellophane, is exactly the forgotten ancestors of San Kanchil, our reverred Mouse Deer of the Pahang mountains.

The Hiragana and Katagana mixed words say something like Deers with Paws, women and men should eat with happiness or something like that. Sounded fishy isn't ?  Reminded me of the times I spent in the evening in Hua Xi jie in Taipei where the bald headed rough looking fat guy was selling snake's blood and gall bladder and were telling the Japanese men it would help them to be more virile. Like real, I told my host. Just looked at the guy selling the snake's blood. He looked virile to you? Words must have got around after that because when I went back a few years later, those men were all gone. The blood must have worked because now they have more handsome and younger men with good abs selling the snake instead. I was more adamant than ever from those nights to tell Christians to abstain from the eating of blood. Read Acts 15 and 21. Okay, I took the picture of the girl in uniform not because I fancy her but she is the welcoming gatekeeper for the large Korean shopping chain SHINSEGAE like our SEIYU.

I finished up at Dongsan at almost 4 pm.  Dongsan is the K-Rail transfer station and train hub. It is quite large. It also boast the biggest electronic and mixed supesize mall like Best Denki, BHG and Metro combined. Certainly I was not going to buy any stuff there because you knew right off the place is for last minute shopping for those going to various spots in the country by Railroad.

I decided to eat my late lunch in Lotteria cafe in the same station and wait for the right guy to come along and asked some questions on directions. In less than 20 minutes 2 boys came to buy drinks and one was carrying a
motherboard box. I asked a few questions in English. The other guy fired up his Galaxy Tablet, clicked on the full map of the Dongsan Train station and told me to go out through exit 2 and walked all the way over to the other side of the road. Trouble was, there was no exit 2 signboard. So the one without the sign must be exit 2 as there were exit 1, 3 and 4. And what a surprise. Walking through a covered air bridge, to the other side are complexes of shops all offering computer stuffs. Just one of those buildings will require at least a full day of browsing. So I decided to walk around the area and was pleasantly surprised to see the hardware side of Seoul, with shops offering security cameras, heaters for the winter, electric blankets and meatal hardware or Wu Jing shops. Again kind of a larger size to Taipei's Pa de Lu. The electric blankets were sold for 65,000 wons but being in the medical equipment industry, you knew that they can't work with 240 Volts in the UK or with us, as their specs say 110 and 220 Volts. These will overheat easily if we apply higher input voltages of 240! What a shame, nobody to advise them to use higher ratings to broaden their international presence.

Knowing Taxi fare is not that expensive, I decided to make my last stop, the Gangwunmun area by taxi. And guessed what, the cab stop in front of the posh shopping center there after showing me the great statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin guarding over the Hans river, and right in front was the Tourist information center working late into the night and the business building where Cebu Pacific airway has an office. Must have quite a lot of Philippines interaction for Cebu Pacific to have a posh office address there.

Again, my sense of direction failed me as I tended to walk away from my targeted site. I walked for almost 40 minutes before remembering that I could have simply turn on my iPhone compass to check my bearing, after all, we did not go through enlistement without knowing how to use our compass?. Silly me. Must be the pneumonia. Looking at the compass, I realised I was out by 90 degrees from my target. Should I walk back or go to the next metro station to catch the subway. Guess what? I was close to the station where I walked in the afternoon!!

This time, I decided to take the bus backwards. Which bus? Any bus as they were all going back along the straight road before they forked off in different directions. The problem was that the bus was so comfortable that I decided to take off my jacket and coat and relaxed on the seat. It was good that I bought the City Ticket and loaded additional cash because the same ticket could be used for the bus ride. Not that I was aware. I decided to give it a try and it worked! Another Korean wonder discovered. Ah, the joy of the modern tourist.

Should I lose my way, all I needed was to take the bus to the terminal and take it back again. It was only about 7:30 pm. Anyhow, with such a wonderful network of underground subways, I could easily stop at the nearest station and got my way round again using the metro. It is a simple system. All lines are numbered numerically, from line 1 to line 9 and some additonal G, J and I lines in different shades. Each station are given names of its location with the additional number identification such as the one I started from, the National Assembly station which is Line 9 and number 14, so the National Assembly for that line is numbered 914 instead of our EW14 for example. The only unusual thing is that some locations have more than one stations and they could be connected underground but not above ground.

Also all exits are numbered in black with yellow background in order not to confuse with the line colours. The thing is that I decided to seat longer in my bus and gradually just soaked in the night scene. A self made Night Tour of the City of Seoul. I soon found myself driven back to Yeouido island where I started in the morning. How do I know? Because It crossed the Hans river and one of the many bridges that runs into Yeouido (Yeouido meaning island). That is right, Right in the middle of Seoul is a backwater island, a sand dune in the fifties where land was unwanted and the Rev David Cho decided to build his church. See Yoido Full Gospel hisotry in wikipedia. And now this island housed the National Assembly in other words, the whole Parliament house is here now and most of the government buildings are locted in this island.

My bus took me to Doksan and in fact was heading to Incheon Bus terminal. Doksan is one of the stop for line 1 which is just 6 stops to Yeouido station where I could change back to line 9 and go further two stations to come back to the National Assembly 914. Time about 8:45 pm. Again the iPhone Apps came in useful. Use the Map function and blinking blue tag told me where I was.

I discovered a beautiful Japanese Ramen store in this station selling all sorts of Ramen for 4000 won. Tempted to eat but could not as I was not hungry. $4.40 dollars Ramen is a steal. So I took a picture of that too with my Ipad2. Another nice thing I noticed is that in this particular station, the there were 4 spots of seating areas with toilet facilities. There was a Japanese type of garden where seats were arranged in semi circular style and some old folks were actually embedded comfortably in animated discussions of life and death issues (gissips-Korean for gossips, ({of couse I was kidding, just a typo error} I guessed but how do you know it is not life and death).

Tuesday morning, I woke  up a bit early, decided to take the free breakfast, not too inviting as a fellow Singaporean staying there concurred. She was traveling free and easy with her 30 years old daughter and decided that morning to stay behind and I spent nearly an hour sharing our little bits and pieces of our way of life compared to Seoul. She, of her investment successes which gave her financial freedom to do things. Told her I better hurry off to catch the taxi (S$10) to the train station for the rapid train to the airport (15,000 won). Unfotunately, this time I got 3 bags to pull along. I have to figure out a means to lug them all and was not sure about conditions in the Seoul Train Station, where I have to connect to the rapid train to the Airport after taking a taxi there? Again, God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. The male receptionist told me the Airport Bus comes by the nearby Lexington Hotel every 20 minutes and the cost is the same as the Rapid Train, 15,000 won. Lexington is 12 meters away by straight line but about 30 to 40 by angular walking. No problem, got there and the kind receptionist allowed me to tag the bags in the storage area and I came back for the third bag with time to spare.

While waiting for the bus, I was joined by another traveler, a NZ IT consultant with his Korean girlfriend and it so happened we were both catching the same CX flights transit in Hong Kong. No sooner, a taxi suddenly popped up, an excited driver proclaimed he could take us to the airport for the same price as the bus? It turned out he got to go to the airport to pick up a regular passenger and he must as well go with some passengers to the airport, so I got help to load and unload my bags into the airport trolley right in front of the CX gate instead of the airport bus stop!


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