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April 19th, 2010

2012 - in financials this time [Apr. 19th, 2010|10:42 am]
Grim but reallistic outlook:
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Trip to Korea & Japan - beginning [Apr. 19th, 2010|12:34 pm]
My goal for the first trip to east asia was to see two neighbouring countries: [South] Korea & Japan. All in all I had 2 weeks: I flew out to ICN (Seoul) on Sunday and returned from NRT (Tokyo) on Sunday two weekends later.

In Korea I was supposed to meet my girl friend (let's call her R) at 8am on Monday. She would be my guide of her homeland. (FYI, when flying from USA to Korea you lose a day in-flight). I had only 3 days planned for Korea: Monday-Wednesday, flying to Japan on Thursday.
Before the trip, R & I agreed to explore Seoul (her hometown), then travel to a buddhist monastery for traditional overnight temple stay in the south of Korea, and then return to Seoul for further sightseeing. She mentioned that 2 other girlfriends might join her, too.
I booked a tea guest house in Bukchon area (historic Seoul district) for first night (Monday->Tuesday). The other lodging was in flux, so we decided to "play it by ear".

On Saturday before my overnight flight to Korea our amateur musicians club held auditions for October performance at Carnegie Hall. Only ensembles were allowed, and we were rehearsing both piano-4hands & guitar/piano compositions. See if you can imagine my schedule for the two preceding weeks, juggling between Korea/Japan research, packing & rehearsing for auditions. It was quite something!

So, on Saturday, we travel to place where auditions were held. (I come with my guitar, which I am not taking overseas.) We go through auditions - decision to be made in 10 days - and then I leave my guitar behind and go straight to the airport for my overnight flight to Korea. Fun day!
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Korea - Seoul [Apr. 19th, 2010|03:10 pm]
Being the capital of Korea, Seoul is a huge city. Absolutely huge!
Probably, even bigger than Moscow (and, yes, bigger than a typical US city, such as NYC). Most of the traditional historic sightseeing is compacted in 'old town' called Bukchon ("Anguk" metro station). It is situated by the northern hills. Seoul, in general, is surrounded by mountains. They are not very high but still manage to create somewhat of a microclimate in the capital.

I arrived in Seoul on "Asiana airlines" flight just before 4am on Monday. I really don't know why "Asiana" is considered a 5-star airline. Seats were about the same as everywhere, and they didn't recline much. Staff were courteous, yes, but nothing really stood out in either decor or service.
Anyway, having arrived before 6am (that's when public transportation starts operating), I had to resort for taxi to my tea guest house. Word of advice: never use taxi in Seoul - they are extremely expensive!!!
Anyway, by ~5am I was at my tea guest house. Now, ask yourself for a moment: how many hotels would be open at 5am?
Guess what - my guest house was closed. (Now, a little history... When I reserved this hotel, I was asked about check-in time, which was offered in increments of 30 min throughout the day. That surprised me a lot, since I know that most hotels are open only during the day, but still... If they offer to accept me at 5am, they are probably open then...) My appeals to open the gate (via all possible means) didn't work. Temperature outside was zero degrees, so I could either stand with my luggage until 8am (when I meet R), or I could walk around the city. I chose the latter. So with my big luggage (on wheels, luckily) I started walking about the streets. It was dark outside, yet I saw a lot of people. Several businesses were already opening. Groceries are plenty in Seoul, so there is no shortage of food. Credit cards are mostly accepted.
I explored the neighbourhood for a couple of hours, came back, tried to knock on the door again, and... WOW... it worked - host woke up and let me in. I was so excited! So, now I am stadning in the courtyard and exploring the newly found maps of the city. Then a white woman comes to me and says: "Are you Eugene, R's friend?"
That took me by surprised. It took me a [brief] moment to come back to my senses. This woman turned out to be one of the two other friends that R mentioned on that e-mail a few days before my trip.
At 8am R & her mother come to pick us up and start sightseeing (yes, R's mother was a surprise).
When R's mother led us up the hill for city views, most of us couldn't keep up with her.

Temples (and especially their roofs) look very beautiful. Roofs are colorful and elaborate. We first hiked up one of the hills (east of Bukchon) for nice views of the city, then we had a lovely traditional lunch celebrating birthday of R's aunt (where we saw a few more members of R's family).
Next up we saw "Blue house" (same as "White house" in USA) and then we explored "Gyeongbokgung" palace.
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