Yes. I suppose you're not surprised that I'm on the road again and traveling to a part of the world currently facing a health crisis. What was I thinking?
The reality is that, despite scary news alerts, the MERS epidemic isn't very widespread and the likelihood of being infected is minimal. However, it has served to keep a lot of people off the streets here. Most of the rest of us just go about as normal. Which means that about 15-20% of us are wearing masks.
Seoul is a modern city of more than 10 million. Korea is the world's 13th largest economy. My phone and tablet are Korean makes. I had expected more bustle. Instead, the pace here is relaxed, clean and orderly. True, 90 % of the people on the subways are glued to their cell phones but there is also a lot of conversation, particularly in the evenings when friends meet over dinner.
I'm staying in a hanok guesthouse. These are traditional homes converted to inns. I sleep on a light mattress on the floor. Amazingly, I seem to be loosening up rather than the opposite. The owner, Pascal (named for the Catholic saint, not the philosopher), prepares a traditional Korean breakfast each morning. I prepared for this trip by eating at a Korean restaurant near my home in Florida - the Okey Dokey. Really. Lots of kimchee (spicy fermented vegetables) served with all meals. I try as many different foods as I can. And have found that I enjoy them all - bulgogi, bibimpab, galbi, mandu, mung bean pancakes. The food is not as spicy as I had expected.
During the day there's a lot to see. Seoul has a number of Josean dynasty palaces, royal tombs, ritual sites, parks, temples. The National Museum is world class, filled with designated National Treasures. The subway system is excellent so getting around is quite easy. We should have it so easy in our large cities.
For me, the most impressive thing so far has been the people. If I stand for a few moments looking befuddled (an increasingly common occurrence) someone will come up and offer to help me find my way. Clothing is modern and modest. There are probably cultural clues I'm missing but there is a certain low keyed 'everybody's an equal' scent in the air that I find very refreshing. Pretty much all the cars are Hyundais or Kias.
So - relaxed, gracious people, excellent food. And my visit with a traditional Korean doctor went very well. Just a little acupuncture and a few doses of a traditional herbal remedy to help me deal with stress.
That's it for now. It's been raining most of the day. I want to get out for an evening stroll through Insadong and coffee at the local cafe. Tomorrow I cross the country to Gyeong-ju.
My new travel keyboard means I'll be sending trip reports out as I go. But I'll still wait until I return to the states to post photos.
Good travels, The Geezer