This weekend Jared and I joined our friend in exploring a bit more of Seoul. This city is so huge and offers so many activities, that I often wonder if we will ever feel that we have seen enough.
We started our day of exploration at the topish (floor 60 of 63) of 63 Building. This building was constructed as a landmark for the 1988 Summer Olympics; when it opened in 1985, it was the tallest building outside of North America. It remained the tallest building in South Korea until 2003. In addition to banking and insurance offices, the building hosts a mall, multiple restaurants, an aquarium, an IMAX theater, and an art gallery. The art gallery (Sky Art) is located on the 60th floor, and allows guests to admire modern art and amazing views of the city side by side. Tickets for the gallery cost ₩11,000, but obtaining them can take awhile. We went at midday on a Saturday, which apparently other people thought was a good time to visit also. There is one ticket counter that sells tickets for all of the building’s attractions. Koreans generally don’t form lines like we are used to in America. As an alternative, the 63 Building ticket office has a machine that will issue customers a number. You wait until your number is called and then you approach the desk. When we arrived, the counter was helping people who had numbers in the lower 900s; we pulled a number in the 120s and had to wait awhile in the lobby. The numbers went by fairly quickly, and with about 15 numbers to go, I started elbowing my way to the front of the pack. No “excuse me,” no pause to wait for Jared to keep up, just go. That’s how you survive here!
A glass elevator swept us past windows that allowed us to watch the ground slip away from us. I loved looking out over Seoul, and the gallery was not as crowded as I expected it to be. Even though it was a clearer day than usual, it was still pretty hazy on the horizon. Regardless, I thought the never-ending views of the city were well worth the price for our ticket.
After our descent, we set off for the Han River, only about a block away. The Han dissects Seoul into northern and southern halves; although I would not swim in it, it offers a lot of recreational activities. Both the northern and southern banks of the river have parks with basketball and tennis courts, large fields, and walking/biking paths. We rented bikes from one of the numerous rental shops along the river. Our bikes were ₩3,000 for the first hour (minimum) and an additional ₩500 for every 15 minutes after; we also had to leave an ID as collateral. We rode through the parks, under bridges, and next to the river until we reached the Banpo Bridge. I loved it. My bike was old and squeaked every time I pedaled, but had a fun little bell and a basket; so I was quite happy. Since we rode along a bike path, I only had to worry about hitting (or not hitting) other bicyclists and the occasional pedestrian. Many bicyclists were like us, on rented bikes and just cruising around. However, there were also several individuals on fancy, fast bikes who wore coordinating jerseys and helmets. At one point, a herd of these speed demons swarmed around me on my yellow clunker, I felt a momentary camaraderie with them; we were brought together in the biking community. I rang my bell in greeting, and they said hello as they passed by.
It was a pretty hot day to be riding bikes in the sun, but it made me appreciate the breeze I made as I coasted downhill all the more. I would love to go back again. There is so much more of the bike path to explore, but Jared and I think we might wait until it cools down in the fall. Jared did not enjoy the outing as much as I did. Though all the bikes for rent were clunkers, his was especially clunky. At one point, I was behind him and coasting along; I realized that I was rapidly gaining on him despite the fact that I wasn’t pedaling, and he appeared to be pedaling very hard. When we returned our bikes, he was able to explain to the bike rental people that the bike was broken, and they immediately started repairing it. Bikers, beware! You may end up working a lot harder than your friends!
We ended the night back at the Banpo Bridge. Every night there is at least one light and water show; on the weekends there is usually an 8:00, 8:30, and 9:00 show, each 15 minutes long. The show consists of water jets shooting off the side of the bridge while various songs are played over loudspeakers; colored lights make the water appear colored as well. We caught the end of the last show on Saturday night and were unable to get any pictures. However, we returned on Sunday night and were rewarded with three spectacular shows (and Jared got the amazing picture featured at the beginning of this post). There is a huge concrete area for people to sit and enjoy the show. Many people had brought a blanket, some soju, and friends to enjoy the evening. I was ready to go after the third show though. We were under the bridge, and I had sat down on some nearby rocks. I soon found a cockroach crawling on my scalp. Yes. A roach in my hair. The tears in my eyes had nothing to do with the perfect synchronization of “My Heart Will Go On” and arches of water shooting from the bridge. I don’t always cry about bugs, but when I do, it’s because a cockroach is in my hair.
The more I travel around the city, the more things I find that I want to do. I start feeling rushed and anxious that I won’t be able to explore as much as I want to. Then I have to remind myself that I actually live here now (since it’s a foreign country, I sometimes feel like I’m on vacation). I am only two months into our minimum stay of two years. I can’t help it though; I want to do everything and I want to do it right now!
Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. ~ H.G. Wells