Today I went out rock climbing for the first time since coming to Korea. Seoul has somewhere in the vicinity of 20 rock climbing gyms, and it is my goal to climb in everyone of them at least once.
First gym up on the list is Astroman. As you can read on the website, Astroman is the largest indoor gym in downtown Seoul (or so they claim, I haven't been anywhere else to confirm that), and apparently it is the main training centre for the Korean National Climbing team. I'll find that out on Monday when I go back to climb during the "busy time."
The person working at the gym was named "Yoon," or at least that's how I said his name. He spoke some English, but I had to get someone else to do some translating for me too. My translator was a father who had brought his young son and daughter in to climb on the wall. He spoke very good English and worked for a major advertising company with offices in New York and Beijing. He gave me an interesting history lesson, claiming that because Shanghai, China had been occupied by so many foreign armies over the centuries it had become a globalized, progressive city, whereas Beijing, China was very conservative because it has remained under Chinese control since its creation.
("Yoon" in his amazingly clean climbing gym - you are provided with slippers to wear around and must leave your shoes outside)
(This is the toilet at Astroman climbing gym. As far as I can tell you're just supposed to squat over it. You can't see it, but in Korea nobody flushes their toilet paper either. You're supposed to throw it in the garbage - you can see the blue bag just peeking around the corner of the wall on the left)
After climbing I set off to find Dongbang Sauna (a Korean bath house). After an hour of searching around I finally found it hidden in a basement in some side street. Unfortunately when I got there it was closed (so much for open 24 hours). I might head back there again one day since it may just have been because I went on a Saturday.
(The steam symbol is the sign for a sauna in Korea, and the words to the right read "Dong-bang [bang means room] 24-"shee" [that must mean 24 hours since "shee-gawn" means hour], and then something about "da-joong" [not sure what that means yet] and the "sa-oo-nah" 2nd basement.)
I found another dalk kabob vendor (update: I discovered today that this dish is called dakkochi and that I have been misspelling dak, even though the Korean spelling of the word clearly has the letter "l" in it). This guy was only charging $1.25 and the stand started becoming quite busy. There were even some police officers who stopped for a kabob. The vendor was in some back alley with many other vendors (as usual), and taxis, racing motorcycles, and small flatbed trucks the size of a small Ford Ranger would keep you on your toes as they tried to fit into areas that were far too small for them.
I crossed a busy street - made even more crowded by the fact that taxi drivers were up to their usual tricks and getting stuck in the middle of intersections because they ran a red light and clogging the crosswalk - and went to Richemont bakery. Everything was rather expensive here, but I did find a very rich slice of cheese cake for $3.25 and a mango popsicle for less than a dollar.
(This place seems like a tourist attraction since I saw more white people in here than I have at any other store at one time. I probably shouldn't be surprised though, since I only found out about it from reading the Lonely Planet Korea travel guide MandDFM gave me.)
After this I decided that it was time to head back home since it was 9:30 at night and I did not want to be out too late, since the subway stops running at midnight, and I was quite tired by this time from the lack of sleep and vigorous climbing.
I ran in to a big problem though: I had completely disoriented myself. It was dark out now and every street was aglow in bright neon light. I walked down many wrong streets for half an hour, but they were quite a spectacle. I saw a man in a pink sweater (young, hip Korean men love their pink sweaters for some reason) trying to sell mobile phones by singing karaoke, and I was asked to come to a Korean goth party by a brave Korean in broken English (brave since I can't imagine the goth culture being a widely accepted one here). I was not in the mood to party at the moment (nor was I suitably attired), but I appreciated the effort so I tried to respond with the only Korean I knew ("thank you... good bye.")
I entered a tunnel that I thought was a subway tunnel, but turned out to just be an underground passageway to the other side of the street. Inside the tunnel was some of the most impressive graffiti I had seen in a while, and it was well lit. On the other side I finally found a building I recognized and was eventually able to make my way back to Hongik University Station and get home (I still haven't mastered the pronunciation of this name, but it sounds something like "honky," but with a "g" instead of a "k").
(Just some of the graffiti in the underground street crossing tunnel.)