The Day at the Palace

               The information desk had only one Korean lady that spoke no English.  I tried to request the subway stop for the palace , even showing her the subway map.  She called the English speaking guide on the phone.  I heard nothing but a far off distant voice.  I pointed to the Palace in the brochure and she took the phone and explained to the other what I wanted then gave the phone back to me to hear a distant voice but no comprehension of what she was saying.  I again gave her back the phone and pointed to the Palace and then the subway map.  She talked to the lady again and then pointed to the spot on the map to go trying to explain I needed to transfer along the way.  I realized that and thanked her then left the Cultural Center (Shopping Mall) and returned to the subway.

        I made my transfer and got off at my stop and expected a bus to take me to the Palace because it was no where in sight and no signs.  I tried to board one bus and the driver shooed me away.  I got directions from a local coffee shop to proceed down the street.  I assumed to the bus stop a ways down.  When I arrived I saw nothing in the stops on the sign that indicated a palace so asked a couple of Korean gentleman that were waiting for a bus. They discussed this and checked the bus signs also until one realized the Palace I wanted was just around the corner.  Sure enough there was the ticket booth and entrance to this mammoth Palace so well hidden from the city view.

       My legs that had cramped up and stopped working had been forced into motion and I was over the intense cramps and pain in my ankles.  My mind was also on what I was seeing at this World Heritage site.  I just kept walking and taking pictures along the way.  Hours passed and I hadn’t been to the Secret Garden, the furthest point and most interesting in the complex.  I arrived but was told it was not opening until 3:30 but I could visit the Palace grounds.  Palace grounds! What was I just visiting?  Oh that was where the peons who served the head of the Dynasty…he actually lived next door.  OK I had time so bought and entrance fee and started on another walking tour…except this one was up hill and downhill and up hill.  I needed some water.  The sun was in it’s glory and it was hot.  I’d walked over 2 hours in the sun without any food since early this morning.  I downed a couple bottles of water and slowed down my pace.  I completed the tour a half hour before the Secret Garden opened so went to the “snack bar” and had a Green Tea Ice Cream and another bottle of water before returning to buy another admittance ticket for the Secret Garden.  The first admittance was $1…second $2 and for the Garden was $5.  This was a guided tour in English with about 20 people.  The first couple I met was from Uzbekistan. Another couple from Korea that had been to Flagstaff and Sedona but .not the Grand Canyon?  This hike was an hour and a half up and down hill.  I skipped the last part and choose to wait for them to return rather than see the last site.  Too much of a climb and my legs were sore…as well as my feet.  I did feel good about my accomplishment.

      I left the compound and took a break on a park bench when the couple from Korea shouted “Come on Move it!  I jumped up and joined them on the way to the Subway.  They were entertaining a business man from Atlanta named Bill Bronson who had been in Seoul for 3 weeks and travels frequently to China as well.  He was a very polished , well off, intelligent, successful business person who was also very friendly and we hit it off.  I told him about my trip to North Korea and Beijing.  He was telling me about Beijing and I mentioned I heard you almost have to wear a Spacesuit in order to go there and survive.  I had hoped to take a train out of Beijing and go somewhere for a couple days before having to return to the US.  He highly recommended a city where the Beijinger’s go for the same reason.  He said I would be the only Westerner there and would love it.  It was on the way to Shanghai.  This is exactly what I had hoped for so made a note of it and will try and go there.  I ducked into the coffee shop just before the subway to thank the man who assisted me with his directions by purchasing a cup of coffee at his shop that only sat 4 people but was top of the line.  He just closed and was cashing out the register.  My luck.  I was hoping to try his coffee.  Seoul has the BEST COFFEE SHOPS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.  That is coming from one that has five different coffee makers at home and uses them all.  I have never seen a city with such outstanding coffee.
       I got on the subway and returned to my neighborhood.  When I got off the subway it was around 6 pm and crowded in the streets.  A bukster handed me a card for a restaurant called the Blacksmith Pizza. I was hungry so decided to go look at the menu.  It was on the second floor in a building next door.  I thought it more than I wanted so was leaving when I notice a sign for Texas Holdem that was on the 5th floor.  I decided to investigate and walked in to a game room like none other .  It was Checker’s , Backgammon,  Chess, Chinese Checkers, etc …all at tables with young couples playing serious table games like we did in the fifties.  I asked the manager and he said Texas Holdem was the name of the place because it was a popular game but they had no gambling or Texas Holdem…only real games where people came to spend an evening.  Wow.

          I went back  home and booked a tour of the DMZ for the next day.  It was my intention to also visit Panmunjom also but I needed a three day notice to clear security.  He asked if I could go on Wednesday as it was now Friday and the weekend was not possible to get security clearance.  Monday they were closed and Tuesday was already booked.  I settled for the half day DMZ only tour.

     The restaurant next door was celebrating it’s opening that night.  A Roast Chicken BBQ place that appeared to be packed.  I decided to go and sat down only to be told it was an hour wait due to the crowds.  I when to the BBQ Chicken Maru just  down the street.  It was busy also.  It looked like a fast food joint that served beer.  I sat down and looked over the menu.  Chicken, Chicken and Chicken. Nothing else.  They had maybe three side dishes but the entrees were only Chicken…just like the place I just left.  So I ordered Chicken…and Beer.  The waiter , there was only one for the entire 65 seat dining room, brought a beer with a dish of mustard and what looked like sugar cubes but were spongy.  Every table has a button glued on it to press for service.  I noticed the same thing at the last restaurant also.   I didn’t know if it was like a beeper or a light or what but after a while I decide to press it.  It made a noise like a ring tone but not loud or not offensive…hardly noticeable but in 2 seconds the only waiter was at my table.  I asked it I was supposed to eat those sugar cubes or mix them with the mustard or what?  He explained the mustard was for the chicken (something new) and the sugar cubes were pickled radish squares to nibble on with my beer.
       Well it turned out they were great. Soon the waiter brought me a plate full of Chicken.  A bit spicy and Roasted over a grill.  Mostly small pieces of Wings and Legs.  It was getting messy until I noticed he brought me two forks.  I looked around to see people were forking the chicken and biting the meat off while on the fork or pulling the pieces apart with two forks but no one was eating with their fingers …except me.
      I finished and pressed the button again.  It was kind of fun to see this waiter just pop up in 2 seconds.  Oh I just wanted my bill…pay at the cashier.  He has the bill…I deliver the order.  Very efficient actually,  I paid about $15 for two beers and a plate of chicken.
       I decided to stop for coffee on the way home.  I ordered a Latte and the girl handed me a buzzer like you get when there is a long line at Applebee’s and your waiting for a table. Then one second later it was vibrating so I turned it in and took my coffee.  I was the only person in the place.  When I went to Dunkin Donuts my first breakfast in Seoul it was the same thing…and I was the only person in the place then.  Strange but thoughtful…like the button on the table. DMZ tomorrow.

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