Almost everyone woke up feeling extremely tired. It was straight to the conference venue for all of us, so unless you would like to hear more about what is being covered during the convention, there’s nothing much to write about. Of course, we had our own mini adventure when we decided to go back to the hotel with the coordinator.

She had to go back to check out to return to Jakarta and we decided to check out the Airtel shop to get the local 3G SIM card. See, we had the guide to getting online for 20 rupees a day (which we later found out to be… ahem, outdated because they changed the President and the government [apparently]). However, today was a Sunday and the only place that was opened was the Airtel Headquarters at Splendid Towers along Begumpete Road. So, we hired our own taxi (this 3-wheeler, which we don’t know what it’s called) to the HQ which is about 3km away. The starting rate was Rs 12 and we ended up paying about Rs 25 because the driver didn’t have change for it. It showed Rs 23, but we sort of suspected that the only way they can get extra money is to deny the passenger of any change. Thank goodness we had small change else we will be paying Rs 100 for it (that will be about S$3.30).

So, we went into the HQ thinking that we will be connected to the rest of the world finally… but we were sooooooo WRONG!

Apparently, the government had changed (either that or their President had changed) recently and new rules were laid to ensure that no terrorists will lay their hands on these SIM cards and get away with bombing some buildings. Instead of the photocopies of NRIC (for address), visa, passport and lots of forms to fill up, now we have to have a photo provided, the above documents, even more forms to fill up, and a letter from the hotel that you are staying at with their utility bill. This is quite incredible and we are perhaps, appreciating the fuss-freeness of our Singapore government. *do I hear applause?*

Oh yes, we will be writing our new guide to getting online in India for 15 Rupees a day. =P

Anyway, we got the forms, went back to the hotel and asked if they could help us with it. We were told to ask them in the evening when we return to the hotel from the convention.

Come evening, we had to attend an… ahem, meeting where the coordinator got bashed for apparently messing up the trip. We thought that was quite uncalled for because everything turned out quite ok in the end. Moreover, we thought that she is quite a nice person and the scolding that she got was totally not necessary.

Digressing a little, the cappuccino at the convention centre (HICC) was quite nice. You should try it.

Anyway, we had several discussion on how everyone in the board room should be helping each other in the long run despite the huge amount of bureaucracy that accompanies any projects. Nonetheless, we made some good contacts which we will be working on in time to come. That probably means more travel, like cowboycaleb, just that… I am not sure what he’s doing in real life.

Dinner was a quite evening at the hotel’s restaurant, which we thought was really cheap! Rs 250 excluding tax per person for a buffet dinner! Yes, we know that that is quite expensive in local terms, but for us, it works out to be less than S$10. Yes, what our lab mates told us – that we can live like a king (or queen for that matter) in India. The only thing is whether we can get a job that pays the same in Singapore terms.

After dinner, it was nights out for many of us. Indeed, it was really a long day as everyone recalled the bashing that went on in the board room. Again. It was really uncalled for.

Breakfast was provided and through our conversations with the coordinator, we found out that there is Wifi in each rooms. The user ID is your room number and password is kdr<room_no>. I am not too worried about revealing it because the signals are unlikely to "escape" from the hotel.

Food was spicy but good. I particularly like the Medhu Vada with some spicy gravy. The prata was also great, although they probably call it by other names. The cornflakes with milk tasted familiar and so did the toast, which will be great for people who are not used to the local food. For a Singaporean who had been exposed to various cuisines of food, this is definitely familiar taste.

We waited for a while after breakfast before being "shipped" to the Centre for Cell and Molecular Biology for a presentation and a tour of the institute. This was followed by a visit to IICT (which I can’t really remember what it stands for now). While at the CCMB, we were shown a professionally done video which introduced their institute and the technology harnessed. What surprised me was the way they run the institute, where everyone is known by their first name and titles thrown out of the window. The center is also ran 24×7 with support staff (admin and tech staff) on 3 rotational shifts and transport provided. Scientists and students are free to come in any time they want and to leave when they feel like it. Ultimately, they will be gauged based on their work from which they will be graded.

We had a tour of the facility and if they really shared all their resources within the various groups within the institute, it would relly be great. Such things are almost unheard of in Singapore because so much bureaucracy exists within the school that it’s some times just not possible to get hold of any facilities even though there’s a need. Talk about counter productivity.

Lunch was provided after the presentation at IICT. It was local fare, but apparently made less spicy. Alice thought it was rather spicy although i thought it was quite alright. The dessert was quie sweet and tasted like a small round cake the shape of a golf ball soaked in condensed milk and served with lots and lots of maple syrup.

The trip to the Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC) was an F1 race in itself (videos to be posted later). Apparently, the right of way is directly proportionate to the size of the vehicle (excluding trucks? which seemed to get horned at everytime). The car we were in, a 7 seater which is briefly "escorted" by 2 government vehicles, zig-zagged in and out of traffic like how Lewis Hamilton would to overtake his competitor – at high speed. Potholes were everywhere and avoiding them requires lots of skill and knowledge of the road. Occasionally when the roads get jammed, the car goes onto the sandy areas of the road and moves forward. Actually, everyone does that so I guess it’s no big deal. We also saw that "horning" other drivers as you go along is also something that seems to be usual practice. At times, we saw funny looking signs at the back of vehicles that says "Please horn". Hmm… is there something that we are missing?

When we finally arrived at the HICC, we realised to our horror that we were not registered for the event! Apparently, the Indian coordinator, Mr Nitesh, didn’t register us and a long negotiation started with the organizer of the event to get us into the opening ceremony in time. After hours and hours of waiting, we finally got our invitation card to go in. It seems like the basic unit of measure of time in India is 5 minutes and it seemed to last for hours. The 5 minutes seemed like infinite time.

We also realised that we were charged for airport transport even though we didn’t get it. Apparently Mr Nitesh thought that the event organizer would arrange for it and the event organizer didn’t know about it. In short, it’s just a jungle out there. Attempts to get him to commit to refund us for the airport transport was also futile until we brought in our own coordinator to intervene. For the uninitiated, here’s how it works. First, he will be busy. Then, he can’t find the main person. Then, the office is closed/phone is engaged/phone has low battery/he is on the line (rotate and reuse where applicable). Lastly, either party will give up first (unlikely to be him) and the matter is solved. =) Simple, isn’t it?

Such people give the nation a bad name for hospitality.

The event lasted till night following which dinner was also provided. We had to queue for a plate with a coupon that was given with the registration pack. Well, the invitation card does not include the coupons for all the meals at the event and the manager at the event was kind enough to provide us with the plates after we explained to him the problem. Effectively, we cut the long queue. Oops! Sorry….

Dinner was quite rushed because we had to rush for the bus which leaves the convention centre at 8pm, after which, we would have to find our way back (which we tried on Day 2). It. Was. Not. Fun.

When we reached the hotel, everyone was quite dead beat and we had to wake up for the transport to the convention centre at 5am because breakfast only starts at 7am and we had to leave by 745am. At least drinking water was provided and there wasn’t the brown water that we hear so often coming out from the tap. The television… was a 42” LG TV. Then again, the hotel rate was quite expensive… =(

It was quite a rush as we scrambled to get our air tickets confirmed. Yes, apparently our flights had just been confirmed even though the names for the conference had been submitted at least a month ago, if not more. Nonetheless, we managed to get our tickets after calling up the ticketing agent a few times in Jarkarta, who will be handling Alice’s air ticket and at least 20 ticketing agents for my tickets. The organization ended up only sponsoring 1 ticket in the end while another organization agreed to sponsor the other ticket through a reimbursement process. I have a feeling I will have to wait till Christmas before I will be able to get any cent back.

Through all our planning and load reductions and planning, we still ended up with a 15kg load on my side and a 12 kg load for Alice. We don’t really know what went wrong, but that seemed to be an overkill for a 6 day trip in India.

We met up with Nicole to hand her the tickets for the Chevrolet F1 party event that she will be covering here, which also ended up as a send off session. That was when we realised that we forgot our Lonely Planet India book – which is almost like our bible when we head for overseas events. We made the mistake of assuming that the books sold within the checked in area would be cheaper, but we were WRONG. Not only did the books seemed to be of the same price, the book that we were looking for was sold out! Of course, we ended up scrambling everywhere for the book before finding a copy at the bookstore just in front of our boarding gate.

It was almost an uneventful event until we realised that we didn’t make arrangements to meet the coordinator at the Hyderabad Airport. A quick check on gmail, thankfully, revealed her full name from which we asked the boarding counter to check if she was on the same flight. Thankfully, she was checking in while we were at the counter and it was quite a huge relief.

The  flight to Hyderabad was quite alright. We were told horror stories about how the entire cabin would carry the scent of coconut oil and hair gel… well, that’s all WRONG too! The flight on SQ438 was very pleasant and we thought that the cabin crew were very attentive too! So much for the rumours that Singaporean passengers were treated second class, although I tend to believe that it’s a one off case (or perhaps a couple of one-offs).

The in-flight entertainment was nice, although I was a little disappointed that there was no screening of The Simpsons. I ended up watching the Police Story starring Jackie Chan and The Terminal starring Tom Hanks instead. I didn’t manage to finish the second movie, but I thought it was a little laggy.

When we arrived at Hyderabad, we realised that the queue that you are at at the immigration counter does not necessarily mean that you would be served by that counter. People were shuffled everywhere so that some queues can be cleared faster. I waited at my queue with no less than 3 people cutting into my queue through a controller standing at the head of the queue.

I didn’t face any problems at the immigration counter, but most of us were enticed into shopping at their Duty Free shops. The only thing that prevented me from getting anything was the consideration that my bag would really be overloaded. From here, we moved on to the baggage lanes where we waited… and waited… and waited till the cows came home – and they did! Without our bags.

Apparently, the airport understands the meaning of Fragile baggage and unloaded our baggage separately! That’s the first time that my fragile baggage had been unloaded in this manner and I thought it was really great service, unlike most airports that just throgh our bag onto the conveyor belt – fragile or otherwise. Alice definitely had a bad experience with Tiger Airways. It’s either the airlines or the airport (our prestigious Budget Terminal) and I hope the airport do realise that Budget Travelling does not equate to budgeted service. I am so ashamed of telling people about our Budget Terminal. The handling was just terrible.

Anyway, I digressed.

So, we met the coordinator at the airport and we happily hitched a ride with her to our hotel. We were suposed to be staying at Katriya De Royal but we ended up going to Katriya Towers and Resorts. We got another cab to the hotel finally but that was not the end of our horror. For some reason, our reservation was never keyed in event though the travel coordinator in India charged our credit card for it. Worst, he had been uncontactable for the entire week or 2 up to the event. It’s quite a pity that things are handled this badly.

Luckily, we managed to get hold of him in the end and got our rooms. Time of check-in? 1:30am after an hour ride from the airport and 45 minutes of contacting the India coordinator,

And it’s going to be a long day the next day.

This post is made on the Lenovo U110 – a great lightweight notebook to bring with you everywhere (you may however need a solid state hard disk for the bumpy roads in India). =)

Two of your… ahem, favourite authors =P are away for a mission in India, and it’s quite regrettable that we are only able to post this up because Internet access here is less than ideal. =( We will be away till next Thursday and in the meantime, you will have your other favourite SJ author, Nicole, to cover the events in Singapore for you. She will be covering the F1 race party tonight organized by Chevrolet. Oh man, what a sacrifice… then again, we are in an F1 race of our own while we are away.

Alice and myself are currently away in Hyderabad, India to attend and cover the 13th Human Genome Meeting, a four day event held in the high-tech city of India. This is the first time that we are covering an event in India and we are prepared for some cultural shock. Meanwhile, we will be updating our trip as as soon as we get our Airtel SIM card.

And do stay tuned for Nicole’s covering of the F1 race party by Chevrolet!

KOR’07: Day 7

Travelogue October 21st, 2007

Day 7! That’s the day that I return to Singapore! I am looking forward to it because it’s Singapore Airlines!

11:00am Damn! I am late again! Better pack my stuffs quickly! 

1:30pm Okie. Got to City Air Terminal on time to get the bus to Incheon Airport. I think I am really late. =( I think I’d reach at about 2:45pm, which is really too late! =( Let’s hope there are no more delays. =(

3:30pm Okie. Got stuck at the luggage check-in as expected. =( My luggage? A hefty 46kg! That’s almost as heavy as me! Haha.. I wonder how I managed it. The person behind the counter said that even if they were to give me the full 25kg allowance, I am still 21 kg overloaded. So I end up having to pay for some overweight luggage. Thank goodness they charged me for 15kg instead og the full 21 kg. =) So that worked out to be about 170,000+ won. Sigh. Heartache. See lah! All those who ask me to buy things back… better split the bill with me =P

4:45pm Plane about to take off. Oh wait, all electronics are supposed to be off…

9:00pm About to land in Singapore. I have watched The Simpsons Movie 4 times, 2 episodes of The Simpsons series, Sixth Sense, 2 Harry Potters, 1 Licence to Wed and something else. Time really seems to fly when you have an entertainment system on board. And oh yes, Wenddy Goh, leading flight stewardess from SQ is really hospitable. She even asked if I needed some children’s souveniours for my kids! So nice right! If only Singapore Airlines have more of cabin crew like her! Kudos to you, Wenddy! (Yes, it’s double ‘d’). And I also met a steward who was doing his 4th (and last) SNY. Hope he’ll enjoy his flying career!

11:00pm Wines, checked! Alcohol, checked! Perfumes, checked! Luggage, check! Okie! Time to go home! Hey, where in the bl**dy h*ll is Ryan??? Missing again?! With my cats?!?!

KOR’07: Day 6

Travelogue October 21st, 2007

Wow! It’s day 6 already! Time really flies, doesn’t it? Especially when you are overseas. Got up really early today because for once, I decided to go to the DMZ – the demilitarized zone between the north and south Koreas. Paid a hefty 46,000 won for it and mistakenly not opt for the other 52,000 won option which includes lunch. =( blur me.

6:00am Got up early in the morning! 6am! Can you believe it? Who gets up at 6am on a holiday? =P Then again, this isn’t really a holiday. Oh well. I soaked myself in the bath tub for a good 30 mins before realizing that I was going to be late! Sigh. No more morning tours for me next time.

7:40am Got to Lotte Hotel on time where PTC – the travel agency was located. Quickly paid up everything and went to the lobby to join the rest of the tour group which was organized by someone else. Unfortunately for me, I ended up joining a Japanese tour group and I didn’t understand Japanese! Thank goodness there is a personal guide of sorts and she translated everything in English.

8:00am Feel asleep on bus. Don’t ask me what happened. Haha….

8:30am Shucks! I got mixed up on all the places that I visited. I think there is this bell for you to ring for your wish of reunification, that’s also the same place where you can see the unification bridge that is build by Hyundai to enable South Korea to send rice and stuffs to the north. That’s where you can also buy nice satay sticks for breakfast! Heh heh…

Following which, we went to this place where you can see the entire DMZ stretch between the north and the south. In fact you can also see the flags on each side of the great divide. No cameras are allowed beyond a certain point at the viewing area, so do bring along a nice small camouflagable camera if you intend to flout the rule. The alternatie is to bring along a DSLR with a good long distance lens. =P The US soldiers are also nice to take pictures with and they are rather friendly. Just be nice to them. =)

After the viewing area was the Gyeongju station between Seoul and PyeongYang. You may get there via KTX and also get a commemorative stamp on your passport stating that you are 200+ km from PyeongYang and 50+ km from Seoul (yes, DMZ is outside, north of Seoul). There are some nice gifts that you can get from the giftshop inside the station. No bargaining is required because the prices are rather fixed. =P

Following that, we went to look at the 3rd tunnel that was found to be dug by the North Koreans in an attempt to invade the South. It was found out after some North Korean defected to the South and when the South asked the North about the tunnel, the latter claimed that they were digging for coal. Ya, right. In a granite area. In fact, the North Koreans smeared coal powder on the granites to pass them off as coal mines. How silly can they get. Of course the South Koreans knew about the planned invasion – you just had someone who defected there!

Anyway no cameras are allowed into the tunnel and we had to deposit our bags into a locker. We also had to wear a safety helmet (like that of a construction helmet) before going into the tunnel. There is a roller coaster kinda transporter that brought up some 200m below ground level to where the North Koreans stopped digging. At first, we were all wondering what was the use of the helmet, until someone’s helmet got hit by some low-lying rocks sticking out from the top of the tunnel! Haha… and oh, I had my handy Nokia phone with me…. ahem.. for emergency calls. Afterall, no photo taking was allowed inside.

After reaching the bottom of the… “rollercoaster ride”, we had to continue the journey into the tunnel dug by the North Koreans by foot. The place is artificially cooled by airconditioners and it seemed like a really wet place. The tunnel was abruptedly blocked because the South Koreans didn’t want the North Koreans to attempt entering/invading the South again. I heard that there were also landmines in the rest of the tunnels! Oh gosh!

Yup, that was the last leg of the DMZ tour. The trip to the Joint Security Area (JSA) was not available and so I won’t be able to “cross the boundary”. Sigh.

12:00pm Returned to City Hall Station (no, not the Singapore one) where I proceeded to… guess where? MyeongDong!!! Yes, counted the wrong number things that I had to buy, so I had to go back there for the…. 5th time? … to get my stuffs. Yes! It’s finally done and I’m free! Woohoo! But following this was a mad rush! And oh, I got my Giordano sweater as well! It’s really nice and I was sure that they don’t have it in Singapore. =P In fact, they have an Autumn collection that Singapore will never have. =(

3:00pm Time for my last series of 2 appointments! Finally settled that as well… while waiting at Starbucks during the interval. It’s finally over and done! Woot! Haha…

5:00pm Went down to Express Bus Terminal to get an extra luggage! Yes, that’s how much things I have bought! Pants (lots of it), some clothes (tops), sweaters, teddy bears, cosmetics, souveniors and lots of information booklets. Heh heh… Started to pack my things finally. Whew! There are really a lot of things! Think i am going to have overweight baggage tomorrow! Shucks! And it’s 12,000 won / kg. Let’s just hope that the anal security guard won’t be at the airport tomorrow.

2:00am Okie. Finally getting some sleep…. goodnight people! =)

KOR’07: Day 5

Travelogue October 21st, 2007

Whee! Brand new day! Brand new Looooooooong day! Sigh. Woke up at 8am again for another appointment. Oh well, was hoping that I could get more things done today, but apparently I didn’t. Not everyday is Sunday, ya?

8:30am Dragged myself out of bed, washed up and went out for my appointment. Yes, I seem to have many appointments ya? Which is why this trip is really not so much of a leisure trip. =( Thankfully the trip ended early and I managed to explore the area a little.

By the time I was done, it was almost 11:30am, which meant that MacDonald’s was serving lunch. I tried their spicy foldover and my verdict is – DON’T TRY!!! The patty is a little overdone and too dry, and is nowhere as soft as Singapore’s. The drinks and everything else is ok though. And oh, some branches serve plastic cups… that are not meant to be taken home. Heh heh. And you have to clear your own tables else you will be stopped at the door and ordered to do a lot of CWOs.

Okie, was just kidding about the CWOs, but please do clear your own trays and tables. =)

Following which, I went to look for the Hard Rock Cafe shop because the actual cafe will only be ready next year in Itaewon. This is the familiar Radish place that people usually go to to get chop. Ok. Maybe it’s not that bad, but a few bad experiences from the locals thinking that I am an ang-mo or ABC is bad enough. I won’t entirely recommend this place, but if you do go there, please keep your wallet close to you. No, they wouldn’t rob you. They’d just make you part with your money willingly because it’d seem like you are getting a good deal. Then again, this is my personal opinion and the whole lot of them are usually not bad apples.

4:30pm Guess where I went to? Did I hear Itaewon? Yes, you are right! Haha… talk about warning others not to go there. Actually I did nothing more than just getting souveniers for some friends. The prices of such stuffs are pretty standard and it doesn’t really matter if you get it from MyeongDong, Dongdaemun or Itaewon. It generally doesn’t cost you more than US$20 to get enough gifts for 8 people, but I generally try to get something better. Heh heh. 😉

7:00pm Went to Yongsan to get my daily groceries. There’s an e-Mart megamart there that sells supermarket stuffs. If you are adventurous enough, you can actually go to B2 and take a tour of duty to try all their sample foods and drinks. They are usually more than happy to let you try them out since:

  • the food/drinks are already cooked/prepared
  • no one will buy them if no one tried them
  • it keeps them busy for a while

And they are really friendly people so you can actually try the food/drinks without worrying about them pulling a long face that you are not getting any stuffs. It is also a good place for getting contraband stuffs chewing gum, but please finish them before landing in Singapore. The fine for non-compliance is up to S$5000 fine or 6 months jail or 4 strokes caning or any or all of the above. So, do consider carefully before smuggling them in.

8:00pm After getting all my groceries and contrabands, it’s time to hit the mountains! Mt. Namsam, that it. It’s the hill where the N Seoul Tower is located. It’s about 3 hours walk up by foot but is easily accessible by cable car from somewhere 15 minutes away from MyeongDong or via bus 02 from Chungmuro Station. You can use your T-Money card to pay for the bus up and it’s 700 won if I didn’t remember wrongly. It’s slightly colder up there, but you can get a significant view from the tower.

There is a food court located at the towe and the food is reasonably priced – pretty much like that of the foodcourt in Seoul city area itself. The Katsu is nice if you like fried stuffs. And the soup is just as great. Kimchi and pickles are freeflow, so do help them to yourselves.

There is a dessert place just outside/upstairs of the foodcourt but I have not been there before. There is also another restaurant located just beside the foodcourt, but I didn’t fancy eating out in the cold. I think it doubles up as a bar too. If you want to go up the observatory, it’d set you back by about 7000 won, meals excluded. There are 2 restaurants up in the tower, and you may opt to dine there.

Once up there, you may see countries/cities engraved onto the glass. I think they are just stickers stuck onto the glass but I didn’t check it out because I have vertigo. There’s also a lion made of rubber tire shreds, if you are keen to know. It reminds me of the Singaporean lion. Haha… roar!

The place closes at about 1030pm, which was the time that I stayed to. They will then herd everyone off from the observatory. Do time your stay if you decided to appreciate the sky view longer.

Once out of the tower, you have 2 ways down – by foot or bus. You may take bus 02 to return to Chungmuro/Dongguk station or 03 to return to Itaewon. There is a cable car station too with a small family restaurant next to the station. I have walked past it before but never really tried it. If you do decide to try it, do let me know if it’s a nice place 😉

11:00pm After a long day… it’s home sweet home again! Woohoo….. zzzzzz….. DMZ tomorrow! Woot! Woot!

KOR’07: Day 4

Travelogue October 21st, 2007

Day 4 is a particularly lazy day because everyone starts late! Heh heh. I didn’t wake up till 11am in the morning and had to drag myself out of bed and into the wilderness open.

12:00pm Dragged myself out of bed into the open. Took train down to Gangnam Station and looked for Kyobo bookstore. Got 2 maps and lotsa books from there! Heh heh. Went on to Dos Tacos for lunch. They serve fantastic Mexican snacks/food. But it’s hidden in a corner where you’d have to look carefully to find it. Clue: It’s not too far from Kyobo building in Gangnam. Just look out for it.

I ordered 1 Hard Taco and a Cheese and Salsa nachos. It was heavenly! Woohoo! The drinks were nice and so were the lady boss and her hubby, who is the owner of the place. Took some pictures and was supposed to send it to her. =)

2:00pm Got down to going to Lotte World. I’ve been in Seoul for so long and so many times but this is the first time that I am heading down to Lotte World. If you go after 5pm, you pay about 5000 won lesser and probably another price after 7pm. There are “General Passes” and “Full/Special Passes”, that allows you 3-5 free rides and unlimited rides respectively. Take the latter one if you are not sure. =) Saves you quite a fair bit of hussle.

Once inside there are 2 parts – inner and outer themes. Hint: The roller coaster is located inside and is called the French Revolution. I hard a hard time looking for that. The others are quite common – Viking, free drops, rotating cups, etc. You are probably survive with the General Pass, but I’d still suggest the other one because you can get to go into the Folk Museum. =) Food is generally a little more expensive inside but it’s not too much a difference.

And if you like Walt Disney (as in Disneyland), there is a small mock up version of it outside, so you can take some pictures with it in the background. Really nice, really beautiful. =) And oh, I met an Indian family and their Korean is much better than mine! Talk about Klobalization (Korea + Globalization).

9:00pm Yes! It was 9pm by the time I left Lotte. Haha… spent about 5 hours there including the ending show. It was worth it if you ask me, but I’d probably go there just once unless I bring kids along next time. The next thing to try would be Everland… heh heh 😉

KOR’07: Day 3

Travelogue October 19th, 2007

11:00am Got up early in the morning (yes, 11am is early when you are on a holiday, well, sort of a holiday) Met Joshua to discuss about cooperation between Singapore and Korea on Bioinformatics. Both of us are from the respective regional societies are we were meeting up for the first time to discuss about possible collaborations between the 2 countries. I am hopping for a milestone project to come around soon. We had initially planned to get some lunch from Insadong, but he was unable to find the place that he was looking for. In the end, we settle for some good old 1970s korean food tucked away in a little known place. =) Following that, we had coffee at Coffee Bean near Deoksugung where we discussed about singapore-Korean ties.

4:00pm Joshua had to return to Daejon for the day while I, well, went to Myeongdong to get more stuffs. Haha… yes, this was trip #2 to MyeongDong. I got some pants from there, which apparently went for a rather good price. Got some sweaters and coats as well because it’s usually hard to find them in Singapore, and even when you do, it’s usually rather expensive. Had ginseng chicken soup there, which hardly tasted anything near it. I guess they watered it too much such that it tastes a little like… chicken dipped in hot water. Oh well, for 10,000 won, I can’t expect too much, can I?

7:00pm Continued shopping in MyeongDong. Yes, when it comes to shopping, women can usually walk the distance of a 16km road much, in full battle order armed with bags of purchases and not complain about being tired at all. More walking entailed for the rest of the evening. But for once, I decided to retire a little earlier because tomorrow is weekend! And weekend means…. more shopping! Heh heh…

9:30pm Finally reached The Resting Place where I tried on the pants that I got. It was a perfect fit! Great! I’m going to get more tomorrow! Weeeeeee! And the top seems really good. Wished I can post some pictures up now… but oh well. =) The ginseng chicken soup turned out not to be too filling, so I had to get some instant noodles from the family mart downstairs. Thank goodness I got some spare chopsticks else I’d be eating with bare fingers!

The weather is rather cold outside @ 12 deg, if I am not wrong. Blankets! I need blankets! Sigh.. this is the only time that I miss Singapore… and oh, because it’s not winter yet, they do not turn on the floor heating. Argh!

Here’s more stuffs about what you can expect in Seoul. Actually Singapore and Seoul are very metropolitan and have very modern facilities. The only thing that is glaringly different is the language that is spoken. Korean is very common in Korea because a lot of the people do not use English as the main language. In fact, it is taken as a foreign language and most people do not have a chance to use it outside classrooms. Another factor is that the older generation do not speak English, so it’s hard to propagate the English language into the culture or population.

Foodcourts

Yes, there are foodcourts in Seoul and quite a number of them too. They are usually located within shopping malls, pretty much like those in Singapore. The cost of food is around the same numerically, e.g. for something you can get for S$5, it’s around 5,000 wons. Typically, it’s US$1 = 1,000 won, so it’s actually more expensive to eat in foodcourts in Seoul. The alternative to this is to eat at roadside stalls, which is usually very hygenic and very much cheaper. For about 3,000 won, you can get quite a good meal; soup included. =)

The exception to this is eating at Namdaemun. They are usually out to make a radish head out of  you.

Bookstores

There are no Times The Bookshop, no MPH, no Popular bookstores in Seoul. The bigger brands are Kyobo (at Gangnam and a few other places), Yoongpoon (at Express Bus Terminal Station) and Bandi’s and Luni’s (at COEX Mall, Samsung Station). They sell international books (English included) as well as my favourite Biological Sciences books. Most books are reasonably priced, with some costing much lesser than what you can find in Singapore. However, there are also some that are pretty costly. If you want to get some books from Seoul, you’d need to:

  1. Find out how much it costs in Singapore
  2. Find out how heavy the book(s) are
  3. Find the nearest EMS post office in Seoul; Fedex Kinko is not really ideal costwise

But they do have unique books that you may not be able to find in Singapore. You should try to exhaust your search in Singapore first before contemplating about getting books from Seoul. They are not exactly the lightest things to carry back nor to check in. The overweight charges are 12,000 won per kg overweight at Incheon Airport.

Shopping and Departmental Stores

There are many departmental stores in Seoul, the most common being Hyundai Department Store (yes, they have other businesses besides making cars), Shinsegae and Lotte. However, these are big brand stores and are usually very costly to get anything. For good bargains, you should try MyeongDong for clothes and cosmetics (they have Giordano’s too), Namdaemum, Dongdaemun and all the different “underground shopping centers”. They are not “underground” as in illegal, but they are literally at Basement 1 – pretty much like the ones you find at Dhoby Ghaut and Raffles Place MRT stations. A particular stretch usually offer the same stuffs at usually the same rates.

If you are looking for shoes, clothes and luggages, you should try the underground shopping centers at Express Bus Terminal Station. It’s just outside the basement of Shinsegae (the expensive mall), and they offer good prices if you are genuine about buying – you might just need to bargain a little. You may also have a better chance with Mandarin than English sometimes.

If you are looking for electronic stuffs, you many want to consider Yongsan (Korean: 용산) (Chinese: 籠山), which is located at Yongsan Station. At the entrance of the station is I’Park Mall, which is an electronics mart cum furniture mart cum megamart all squeezed into one building. The megamart is at the basement (B1/B2) and is good for getting groceries (if you are planning to stay for about 1.5 to 2 weeks) as well as getting a feel on the prices of general goods in Seoul.

If you walk further down, there is another mega electronics shopping mall as well as a Sim Lim Square look-alike. Things there are priced variantly, so, do exercise discretion when buying stuffs from them. The general rule is, if you think it’s too expensive, it probably is. =)

The other place where more Caucasians frequent is Itaewon. This is generally a good place to look around, but beware of touts who tend to offer sky-high prices for things that are relatively cheaper in other districts. Most of the people here understand a little English and usually have a calculator for you to bargain with them. There are also a lot of International eateries here, so if you are really not used to Kimchi, or would like to try some Indian/Parkistanian/West Asian/Middle Eastern food, this is probably your best bet.

Another thing about Itaewon is that the houses are located on a slope. So, if you know the right turns to make, you can actually grasp a scenic view of the Han River in the evening. It’s simply beautiful. =)

Hotels

Okie, there are hotels and there are motels. If you know how to book, you can get hotels at motel rates. What’s the trick behind this? You’d have to email me to find out. 😉 Heh. And it usually works for other countries before. Sorry, can’t say much here.

But the best time to get hotels is during Winter and Summer. Yes, Winter. Most people will think that hotel rates peak at Winter seasons, but it’s really not the case. You just have to make advanced reservations.

Winter Sports

I don’t know how this falls under “common places and facilities”, but oh well, the nearest place you can get snow and ski is at Bears Town, which is just a couple of hours north of Seoul. Another place you can get good snow fall during Winter is YongPyeong (not PyeongYang, that is in North Korea). However, it is usually packed during Winter and it is often fully booked. If you are intending to go there for winter, do book early. Do a google on Internet and you should be able to get some bookings.

Rates are usually quite high, so the best option is to opt for the hostel, which really isn’t that bad, but you’d have to sleep on the floor though. Soft blankets and quilts are given though. The flood is water-heated, but it’s really nice because it’s around freezing temperatures outside.

There is a Starbucks and a foodcourt at YongPyeong and the rates are pretty reasonable. I tried building a snowman the last time I was there during winter. Well… didn’t turn out quite well because all I got was a stump. =( Oh well, better luck this winter, perhaps. 😉

Interstate travel

The best way to travel besides domestic flights (from Gimpo Airport) is to take the KTX. There are 3 main types of trains – the bullet train, the express train and the commuter train. I took a train to Pohang once and it was about 4 hours by express train because Pohang is a rather quiet town and not a major city – and hence no bullet trains. =( And they do not have Starbucks or McDonalds! Oh well…

Yes, so, back to KTX. You may take the KTX either from Yongsan Station or from Seoul Station, depending on your destination. Be sure to go to either station to confirm your timing and to get your tickets in advance, especially during peak periods. You may get 1 way or return tickets. I got 1 way tickets because I wasn’t sure of when I’d be returning. Haha…

Ed: Okie.. a little too long for this post. If there are more things that you’d like to know about Seoul/Korea, just drop me a comment and I’d be glad to post on it 😉