Four days in Seoul
Although I attempted for several months to get a visa in Japan, I didn't manage. Japan is rather strict about who they let into the country, and my unofficial status as a "university guest" wasn't helping. With a regular tourist visa I was able to stay in Japan for just 91 days. However, Annett and I had planned to stay until Christmas, a total of 107 days. Instead of shortening our stay, we decided to leave the country for a couple of days. Since Japan is an island, and since boats are slow, we had to fly our way out of there, and so we flew to the nearest country we could easily get into: South Korea.
More precisely, our destination was Seoul. Although Seoul has yet to acquire the touristic status of for instance Bangkok, it has (almost) all the facilities we could wish for: most people who make a business speak at least half-decent English, and at most touristic cultural sites, like for instance the palaces and the Korean Folk Village we visited, there were either English speaking guides or boards with English explanations.
We managed to find a room in a small family run hotel called Yims House (half of the Korean population is called Yim), where we had our own bath room with bath and shower. Furthermore, we had a television with about 80 channels, including the hilarious American Air Force National channel, and this provided us with the perfect way to relax after a long day of sight-seeing.
In the limited amount of time we had, we were able to see quite a few interesting things, partly because the staff of the hostel was?? so friendly to give us some tips about what we should see and what was not very interesting. We visited, for example, four of the five palaces situated in Seoul. These were very beautiful and interesting, but we had seen similar things in Japan. On the other hand, visiting the Korean Folk Village was a unique experience. It was amazing to walk around in a reconstruction of a medium-sized city and see, no feel, what life was like for a Korean in the 19th century.
Again thanks to the staff of the hostel, it came to our knowledge that there was the possibility of taking a DMZ tour (DeMilitarized Zone), a trip to the border between North and South Korea. This turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to Seoul. With the goal to quietly attack South Korea, North Korea dug several tunnels under the border. Four of these have been discovered, the first of which in 1978 and the last in 1990. And at our DMZ tour we were able to enter one of these tunnels!
Our tunnel was discovered because an engineer from North Korea had managed to flee the country, together with the knowledge that North Korea was digging such tunnels to attack South Korea. To detect these tunnels, South Korea put water pipes in the ground at many places. When the North Koreans used their dynamite to construct the tunnel, one of these pipes blew up and as a result water flew up in the air (or something like that...). When they found the tunnel, the North Koreans claimed it was one of their coal mines (apparently they had accidentally ended up under South Korea). They had even gone through the trouble of painting them black! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures inside the tunnel.
Altogether we had a very interesting experience in Seoul. It is definitely a comfortable and cheap city to visit, although four days is, naturally, too short. Something we really noticed was the gap in attitude between the younger and the older generation. Starting at what we think is the age of 55, people become a bit impolite, pushing you for instance aside to get into the metro, and almost all older men give Annett a long, animalistic sort of look, even turning their head when passing by (this is something we also experienced in Romania, but then by mainly the younger men). Apart from this, we had a great time in Seoul.
For more pictures, look at Annett's picture page.