Seoul, Day One: Doughnuts, Journalists and Samgyeopsal

What’s a great way to fight jet lag and South Korea’s June humidity while easing into the “we’re not in Texas anymore” mentality? Take advantage of one of Seoul’s awesome metro stations and drop into a Krispy Kreme for some coffee and doughnuts, free wifi, and powerful air conditioning.

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Truth is, we guys had already gotten up really early and had breakfast in the Namguro area of Seoul (subway Line 7), where we were staying. Eating breakfast on the street — it’s a luxury we took advantage of just about every day we were in Seoul. The nice lady at Tous Le Jours started expecting us, I think.

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The first major locale for our travel writing experiences was Gwanghwamun. This square is rich with a load of great attention-grabbers, particularly if you’ve never been there. The statues of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin (left foreground) and King Sejong the Great (center background, seated) almost immediately catch your eye. Farther down on the right (from the first photo’s point of view), you’ll find the U.S. Embassy.

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Underneath King Sejong’s statue, there’s an exhibition hall full of information about Sejong’s life, the development of Hangeul (the Korean alphabet), and general Korean history. There are also interactive exhibits. On the day we visited, our group got a lesson in Hangeul writing.

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There’s another really cool (literally) thing about Gwanghwamun Square. The fountains are a proven hit with children …

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… and university study abroad students.

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The starting point of Cheonggyecheon Stream is also here. This is one of my favorite landmarks in Seoul, and it’s immensely popular with the locals. If you’re visiting and just need to get away for a short walk, this is the place to do it. It’s a peaceful part of the metropolis.

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By this point in the day, we were hot, thirsty, and hungry, so we found a couple of places to eat nearby before hitting up one more location: Deoksugung Palace. We got a bit lucky and emerged from our restaurants just a few minutes before the changing of the guard ceremony.

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The admission price is only 1,000 Korean Won (one dollar, essentially), and with that comes some history and a lot of green space (and shade) that residents of Seoul seem to enjoy. We did, too.

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This wrapped up the tourism portion of our day, but we still had one more thing on our agenda. We went home, cleaned up a bit, and then headed back to the Gwanghwamun area that night for a meeting at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

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We were guests of the Asian American Journalists Association’s Asia chapter and were invited to screen the documentary Juche Strong, which its producers say explores common misperceptions about North Korea. (Here’s the screening info that also mentions WTAMU.)

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The meeting was held in the Korea Press Center Building and was a terrific opportunity for us to network with journalists and professional communicators working in Seoul.

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The last thing on our agenda for the day was to find a Korean BBQ joint, and we got a recommendation for one that, conveniently enough, was just around the corner. This was the first time most of us on the trip had ever had Korean BBQ, particularly samgyeopsal — grilled pork belly. What I enjoy most about this kind of meal (which is among my favorite in all the world) is that the food is terrific, you cook it yourself, and it fosters communal dining.

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After we had utterly destroyed dinner, we descended into Seoul’s serpentine subway system and found our way back to our respective apartments. We needed to rest up for an early date with the Demilitarized Zone the next day.

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