Although I only spent a month in Japan, I feel that I crammed the experiences in and did it justice, and may yet return. South Korea feels similar, but a little less structured – and vegetarian food is just as hard to come by. There are no less than three television channels devoted to real-time computer gaming – at just about any hour you can tune in and watch people playing Starcraft with enthusiastic Korean commentary. When I arrived in the sprawling port city of Busan, I was told that my hostel was fifteen minutes away from the station. Forty-five minutes later, I found the place and realised that they had meant fifteen minutes by metro (though I did save W1100 or so).
After Busan, the historic city of Gyeongju was my first stop. It’s a small and pleasant town, and the site of the ancient Silla empire. Tumuli are scattered all over the region, housing the honoured remains of various nobles and royals, and it’s possible to climb atop the ones in public parks (they’re bigger than they look). When searching for a bar to have a quiet evening drink in, we (myself and a wonderful Canadian teacher who introduced me to such delights as The Kingdom of Loathing, Homestar Runner and Mystery Science Theater 3000) stumbled across a basement place which turned out to have illegal gambling tables and was showing Star Wars Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones on a big screen. Appropriately enough, one of the dogs at the hostel, while friendly, looked like an Ewok (or possible a Mogwai).
Seoul was next on the list, being home to the Vietnamese embassy, various sights and a replacement towel sent over from mission control back in England (currently still waiting at the poste restante counter due to the post office having shorter opening hours on weekends). At Gyeongbokgung Palace, I was crouching on the ground (waiting for the hordes of people to disperse so I could get a reasonable shot of the main gate) when suddenly drums sounded and a troop of Palace Guards rounded the corner, marched past us and disappeared round the other corner. They came back a few minutes later and I got to see the changeover ceremony, which, according to the tourist board, isn’t supposed to take place in January or February. Yay!