Monday, January 08, 2007

No Seoul jokes

I'm a day into Seoul and lots of impressions to write about but I still have a few things from the last days of Beijing to get down. I'm also still recovering from what appears to have been the flu and after 10 hours sleep last night I awoke this morning still feeling utterly exhausted with big black bags under my eyes. Though the lectures were all good today I'm still not in proper form to appreciate. It's going to be another couple of days yet I fear.

Anyway, last time I wrote, Tim was staying with me in Beijing eating any weird and wonderful delicacies Beijing could throw at him. His description of fermented Mung bean milk as "like drinking cabbage boiled in bile through a sock made of stilton" is a pretty fair assessment.

I'd never planned to give any money to Beijing zoo having heard enough about the conditions. Unfortunately it was too late when we realised that having bought tickets to the Beijing aquarium (Asia's largest) entry to the whole zoo was included. We didn't go into the elephant world which, from the outside, looks like some monstrous concrete prison, nor did we see any of the other land animal exhibits. We did go into the aquarium which is an impressive centre with a vast variety of fish in the same conditions I've seen them in anywhere else in the world.

From there we headed to the CCTV tower to have a look at the Beijing city lights. My body decided to go into shutdown mode as soon as we got to the top and the biting wind whipped through every layer of clothing I'd carefully worn. Attempting to warm up with a hot drink in the observation room clearly wasn't going to do the trick so we headed back for a foot massage instead.

After an amusing Korean meal (no pictures, no English, lots of pointing, lots of laughing) we headed to Lush to see the live music. If anyone is in the area on a Friday night I'd really recommend going to see some of the regular singers who play there. Though it's not a professional event some of the singers are truly exceptional with one particular male blues singer standing out from the crowd. Every Friday in Wudaokou.

On Saturday we headed out to the hutongs though our taxi driver was most perturbed. I explained to him that I didn't know where we wanted to go, we were just looking for somewhere that looked good. He raised his arms in desperation exclaiming "how can I drive you if you don't know where you want to go?" Anyway, after sufficient aimless wondering we ended up at a suitable hutong and wandered the little alleys for an hour or so peeking in at the discretely hidden restaurants along the way.

We were making our way to Houhai lake with its mass of neon bars which I generally try and avoid at all costs. The bars weren't our goal as the frozen lake was covered in people performing all range of icey activities. Only out here does one realise how deprived we are of fun with such stringent health and safety laws. Have a look here for some ideas of what's more fun than being pulled slowly on a plastic bag across a frozen pond. You can get up some serious speed on them. Slowing is not easy and turning at speed is very tricky as we found several times to our cost. Also on offer were chairs strapped to skates with ski poles for propulsion and some sort of motorized, two-man, sitting, sliding contraption. All good fun though after 20 minutes we were very very cold. It probably didn't help my recovery much either.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to take Tim to any of the superclubs as I'd hoped, partly because my headache procluded me from being able to bear it and partly because Beijing seemed all partied out from the weekend before. Still, a trip to Beijing wouldn't be complete without a trip to Sanlitun so we headed to some of the usual haunts there for some final night orange juices. A couple of hours was as much as I could handle so we headed back around midnight.

So, give or take a few busses, underground rides, taxis and planes, that takes me to Seoul, Korea where we have the first week of the two week winter school. I'm going to leave it there for now and write my initial impressions of the country in the next post as I still feel like I need a full 24 hours sleep.

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