in NRT – in the ANA lounge

Wow, the United service (in economy plus) was pretty marginal on this 6.5 hour flight from SIN-NRT. I think my flight attendant was having a bad day :-)

Skipped the lesser United Club (big lineup to get in) which is right after the international transfer security checkpoint, and went straight to the ANA (*A Gold) lounge, which is much nicer, less crowded and with better food and drink selection (although no windows). I should have done this on my way back from Seoul last fall!

I have about an hour and a half to kill in here before I need to board the next leg to SFO.

Fast internet connection in here.

I’m going to upload some photos from Singapore – I was organizing and reducing resolution on the best ones during the flight (an ongoing process – I did that on the MRT and bus yesterday too). At least until I depleted my netbook battery, that is.

Seoul: final misc notes (inc. laundry)

  • Laundry is generally free at hostels in Seoul.
    However, it is cold water and hung dry.
    Which means it could take a long time to dry (and as eco-friendly as hung-dry is, even in the tropical sun, laundry comes out feeling much less soft).
  • No hard sell, even in markets (in stark contrast to Istanbul)

Also, I recently added photos to previous blog entries: metro (subway) notes and DMZ

Seoul: food items and photos

Some typical food items:

  • kimchi: pickled spicy cabbage (served with every meal)
  • banchan: side dishes that accompany meals (inc. in price; excludes the soup, kimchi and sauces)
  • bibimbap: rice (bap) bowl with colourful veggies, meat (or seafood) and egg on top (can be ordered without meat/seafood)
  • dolsot bibimbap: bibimbap served in a stone hotpot (keeps the food warm longer, and you get some crispy rice at the bottom)
  • gochujang: spicy red pepper paste
  • galbi: beef ribs (I didn’t eat any, but including for semi-completeness)
  • bulgogi: thin slices of beef (or pork)
  • samgyeopsal: streaky pork belly
  • jjigae: like a stew, usually orange-coloured and served in a stone hotpot
  • jeon: savoury wheat pancakes
  • bindaetteok: savoury mung bean pancakes (heavier than jeon)

Notes:

  • Meals usually include kimchi, soup and several banchan (how many of the latter depends on how fancy the resto is)
  • Taxes are included in the prices (or there are no taxes?)
  • Tipping is not expected (and would be insulting), though apparently some high end restos add a service charge
  • Water is served free (it was always safe in Seoul) or is available self-serve from a water filter machine; sometimes tea is served
  • Chopsticks are usually stainless steel (and rectangular at the narrow end, instead of round, which also helps grip food a little)
  • It’s hard to get truly vegetarian meals (except at Buddhist temples/restos) as most meals include some kind of meat, and even kimchi is often made with fish sauce

Here are a few photos of food and meals I had around Seoul (I pretty much enjoyed all of them!):

Tokyo airport lounges

I experienced 2 very different airport lounges in Tokyo, one in each direction, as a Star Alliance gold member).

  • Going east, I used the Asiana lounge, which was modern (apparently renovated after the earthquake earlier this year), and full of surprises: self-sever sake bar, cooked-to-order noodle resto, a good variety of food and drinks (alcoholic and non)
  • Going west, I used the United Club, which, while large, wasn’t much different than a United Club on American soil: a small selection of self-serve alcohol, limited food selection (some maki sushi, soup, cheese and crackers)

Frankly, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to go back to the Asiana lounge on my 6 hour layover coming back westbound.

Seoul: more Korean language notes

  • No explicit word for “please” (implicit in polite form of verb)
    e.g.  “XXX juseyo” means “I want XXX please” or “Please give me XXX”
  • Only language I know where the word for “yes” starts with letter “n” (it’s ne)
  • My hovercraft is full of eels: 내 호버크라프트는 장어로 가득 차 있어요
    (Nae hoebuhkeurapeuteuneun changuhro kadeuk cha isseyo)
    (from http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/hovercraft.htm)
  • For the techies, HTML codes for Hangul: HTML codes for Hangul

South Korea: requisite money shot

Here are the front and back of the most common bills and coins I ran across.

Bills: W10,000/$9, W5,000/$4.50, W1,0000/$0.90
Coins: W500/$0.44, W100/$0.09, W50/$0.045 (ok, this last one wasn’t actually that common)

Read more about the South Korean Won on Wikipedia.

Seoul: Top10 lists

OK, so these lists don’t actually have 10 items, but you know what I mean…

Based on what I did, with some italicized items that I unfortunately did not see/experience

Top Things To Do:

  • Palaces and Historical Sites
  • Views of the CIty
  • DMZ Tour
  • Silloam Fomentation Sauna and hot tubs
  • Stroll along Cheong-gye-chon (stream)
  • Shopping at Dongdaemun or Namdaemun (night) markets
  • Museums
  • Enjoy Local Food

Top Palaces and Historical Sites:

  • Changdeokgung (palace) and Secret Garden – World Heritage Listed (do the 10:30am English tours of palace and garden, back to back)
  • Gyeongbokgung (palace) and the changing of the guards ceremony at the top of the hour (lasts 15 minutes)
  • Bukchon Hanok Village for traditional house architecture

Top Views of the City:

  • N Seoul Tower on Namsan (mountain) (360° view)
  • 63 City (tower) on south bank of Hangang (river) (view to northeast)
  • Inwangsan (mountain) – short hike close in to town (view to south)
  • Bukaksan (mountain) – longer hike, not quite as close in to town (view to south)

Top Museums:

  • War Memorial Museum
  • Leeum Samsung Museum

 

Seoul/Guam: Sitting in ORD, one leg to go; plus Frequent Flyers

One more short flight from ORD to YYZ, can’t wait to be done with flights. Until Tuesday that is :-)

I actually met a United Global Services member (that’s United’s top elite tier that is invite-only) in NRT lounge – he was flying the same ICN-NRT-GUM-SFO flights, and then I coincidentally sat next to him on the NRT-GUM flight. He gave me some good tips regarding the perks I’ll be receiving as my elite level increases.

On my SFO-ORD leg, the lady next to me (in first class) is a 1K member, who coincidentally flew out of Istanbul on Turkish Airlines the very same morning I did two weeks ago (albeit to Toronto instead of my flight to Chicago)! It’s a small world after all…

Seoul: Technology tidbits

Korea, and Seoul in particular, is one of the most wired places on earth. Or should that be most wireless places on earth?

Internet access is very fast (speedtest.net showed 30/10 Mbps down/up at my hostel, about 10 times the speed in North America).

Many cafes, restaurants and bars have free wifi (though Starbucks does not).

There is wi-fi across much of the city, though not free. I didn’t need it enough, but I think it was $2-3/day.

Around town (and especially in metro stations), they have large touch screens with area information, including google satellite map of the area. Very cool.

Surprisingly my GSM phone did roam in Seoul (and Tokyo airport), though I didn’t make calls. (Tip: if you call your phone from Skype in order to check voicemail, turn off your phone first or you may be hit with roaming fees; also, you might need to wait an hour for the phone to be unregistered from the roaming network).

“Seoul Subway” Android app by Sungpil Jang (probably an IPhone version too) – way cool, even offline. Even offline (i.e. no data plan nor wi-fi connection), it will calculate a route between 2 stations including times of the next train(s), and tell you the car and door number for quickest transfer between lines (i.e. where the stairs/hallway to the next metro line is exactly).

Seoul: Metro (subway) notes

The Metro (subway) reminded me of the one in Taipei, i.e. efficient and easy to use:

  • Impressive network of 9 subway lines and 3 commuter rail lines, including one from both airports to downtown Seoul.
  • English language in addition to Hangul everywhere
  • Smart transit stored-value cards called T-Money (non-refundable W2000/$1.75 to purchase the card, then reloadable)
  • Short distance fares (to most tourist places) are the minimum W1000/$0.90 cash or W900/$0.80 with card
  • Card gives you a 10% discount over cash – simply tap the card to the reader on entrance (minimum fare is deducted, and balance shown), and again on exit (if fare is higher, additional amount is deducted; balance is shown again)
  • Station announcements made in Korean, English and Mandarin (sometimes also in Japanese)
  • The turnstile for station entrance/exit is designed for maximum efficiency: there is no blocking gate or physical turnstile, just tap the reader and walk through (I discovered what happens if you don’t pay: as I left for the airport, I pushed my luggage in first before I tapped the reader, and the gate closed and honked at me)
  • There are often monitors showing the time of the next train, sometimes with graphical indicators of where the train physically is, in relation to the previous 2 metro stations on the line.
  • Metro stations also all have numbers identifying them: a 3 digit sequential number within each line, where the first digit is the line number.
  • Some stations have platforms in the middle, some are split; either way, make sure you head to the correct platform by knowing either the end station or at least the next station in the direction you want to go
  • Sometimes the direction sign will list multiple key stations in that direction (not just the next/last station)
  • In the train, there is an indicator of whether the doors will open on the left or right for each station on the line map above the door, in the multi-lingual announcements and on the monitors (for trains that have that).
  • Lines 5678 are newer than 1234 – you see the 5678 “new metro” logo a lot
  • Both in trains and on platforms, a little musical ditty plays before the announcement of an arriving train or station; the music varies by line/direction and is a cute addition to the announcement.
  • Washrooms are clean; sometimes they are inside the station, sometimes they are outside of the paid area.
  • There is at least one cool Android app called “Seoul Subway” by Sungpil Jang (likely for IPhone too) with Seoul metro info that, even offline, will calculate a route between 2 stations including times of the next train(s), and tell you the car and door number for quickest transfer between lines (i.e. where the stairs/hallway to the next metro line is exactly). Wow.
  • There is also a cool online map with station search functionality.
  • Generally the metro is quite crowded; if I’m standing on a platform and there aren’t a lot of people, I probably just missed a train and the platform will get crowded before the next train arrives.
  • There is cell phone coverage and wi-fi in the trains, even underground.
  • I’d say 80% of people under 30 are using their phone (usually playing games or watching TV as they have fast connections) on the train.

Small negatives:

  • The metro doesn’t run very late, though the last train times are posted by the station entrance (in Hangul and English)
  • Transfers between lines can involve a lot of walking, as stations are rarely stacked on top of each other.
  • There are many stairs, not always with escalators (though there is usually an elevator somewhere). At one station I counted 60 stairs to get up to street level, though some are deeper than that.