A little bit o’ Seoul

Daejeon Station

Daejeon Station

It’s a snowy morning in Daejeon and I am on the 8:29 KTX (Korea’s high-speed express train) to Seoul for a couple of hours.

 

 

Actually, I am on “official business” – I am going to the U.S. Embassy in downtown Seoul to pick up my new passport. I guess it’s okay to call it “official business” – after all, the passport really does belong, technically speaking, to the State Department. It was due to expire in March, but with me going to Laos in 17 days, you need at least six months left on your passport to travel to most countries and that was something I was not about to chance with the three months I would have had left on my passport had I not renewed it.

 

When I got up this morning at 6:00 it was not snowing; by the time I left for Daejeon Station—about a ten-minute taxi ride away from where I live—it was coming down pretty hard.

 

Called On right before I left. She was still sleeping. Jeremy Aaron had gotten up a few times during the night. He’s feeling much better now. After he had a vaccination two days ago he was running a fever.

 

I’ll call On again after I finish at the embassy. I am hoping my passport is ready. They told me two weeks ago when I went to Seoul to drop off the paperwork and pay the 75.00 for a new passport. However, there was Thanksgiving last week and this time of the year it gets a little busy with people traveling.

 

From Daejeon to Seoul, it’s only about an hour on the KTX. There are two stops: one at Cheonan-Asan about 30 minutes north of Daejeon and one at Gwangmyeong which is near Suwon. It’s a sweet ride and not too expensive—only 17,000 Won, around $12.00 for a one-way ticket. I’ve spent that kind of money traveling from one part of Seoul to another in a taxi during rush hour and taking just as long.

 

As the landscape rushes by I am thinking about this year and everything that has happened from the birth of Jeremy Aaron to the passing of my mother. The cycle if life and death, just like the seasons that have marked my time in Korea; that have marked my time on Earth. I’ve watched the countryside turn from winter to spring to summer and fall and soon winter again.

 

In the distance, some mountains remind me of the opening scenes of M*A*S*H. I can hear Johnny Mandel’s theme music playing in my mind.

 

The KTX arrives in Seoul a little after 9:30 and from Seoul Station I have to take a subway one stop to City Hall and from there, I walk to the embassy. Fortunately, I have just missed the morning rush hour so I don’t have to worry about being packed in one of the subway cars by subway push men.

 

It might have been snowing in Daejeon, but in Seoul it is bitterly cold. Raw, biting cold with a wind whipping down from the north that makes Seoul feel more like “the windy city” than Chicago. The temperature has to be at least in the teens but with that strong wind, the wind chill factor has got to be minus-something. It’s a good thing I don’t have to walk too far.

 

The last time I was at the embassy to drop off my paperwork there was only one other person. Today it’s a little more crowded but I am in and out of there in less than 30 minutes. I have my brand new electronic passport and I am good to go for another 10 years.

 

Call On to let her know that I’ve gotten my passport.

 

Not too far from the U.S. Embassy is the Kyobo Book Center—the oldest bookstore in Seoul. It gets me waxing a little nostalgic because in two days it will be the anniversary of when I first came to Korea 18 years ago and that first weekend in Korea one of the places I visited was Kyobo. Can you believe that—18 years ago I first came to Korea? I’ll save the waxing nostalgic for later.

 

My return ticket to Daejeon on the KTX is for 3:00 so I have enough time to head over to the USO and their canteen for a chili dog and fries. Most people think that the USO in Seoul is only for US service members, but actually anyone can use it to have some authentic home style cooking or use its travel agency. I’ve been coming here for years and whenever I am in Seoul now, I stop here for something to eat as well as chat with the canteen manager Mike Maddox who has been in Korea since the 80s.

 

It’s now a little after 12:00 and time to head back to Seoul Station, which is one subway stop from Namyeong Station that is located near the USO. When the subway pulls into the station, its destination is Uijongbu. It’s hard not to feel a part of history—Korean War history—when you hear that name or see it printed on a sign. Head north to Uijongbu and you are close to where some of the fighting took place during the Korean War. I’ve been to Uijongbu a number of times when I was writing for the Korea Times a couple of years ago.

 

I am able to change my ticket when I finally arrive at Seoul Station about fifteen minutes later and at 1:15 I am heading south to Daejeon. I’ve already called On to let her know I am heading back.

 

Another hour on the KTX and by 2:45 I am back in my room.

 

It was a little bit of Seoul and some soul searching on a very cold and snowy day in Korea.

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