What you should do if you want to take the KTX is reserve a ticket the night before, or maybe two days before- it's fairly easy, you can do it online on their website which has a pretty easily navigable English section. I wanted to make my quest more spontaneous so I planned on simply going to the station in the morning, whenever I woke up. (Planned spontaneity, is it really spontaneous?) From the station I would catch a train to Seoul and find my way to the Nakwon Arcade, a gargantuan music store complex- multi levels with about 30 stores on each level. The idea was to just wander around until I came upon a banjo- I watched the YouTube videos of this place until I saw a banjo in a shop window as evidence that they might actually have one. After the banjo purchase I would scurry back to the Seoul KTX and make my way home. In retrospect I should have considered wandering around Seoul before buying a banjo, it's exhausting carrying one of those around for too long... That was the plan. Everything went according to plan, in fact I think it was too easy! Sure it was an adventure, yeah I've never traveled alone before, but I was entirely too successful! I was hoping for more of a thrill I guess- really though, it was just banjo shopping.
I arrived at the KTX station at about 11am with murse on my shoulder filled with traveler's essentials; Seoul guide book (thanks Adrienne), iPod, korean pocket translator, pint sized notebook, and a four-colour pen. I also had an umbrella which might have been a mistake... it's a large umbrella and slightly unwieldy and no one else seemed to be carrying one, I guess the advantage of being a Korean in Korea is that you can understand the weather channel. It's sort of a rule here, for me at least, that if the sky has some dark clouds in it then you should bring your umbrella with you.
Buying the ticket was easy, too easy- I actually thought I had done something wrong, it was that easy. They have automated ticket dispensers, you simply go up to it and hit the giant button on the bottom that says "English" and follow the steps as stated. I ended up getting a train at leaving at noon, the first two were sold out- only an hour wait. I waited around until it was boarding time for my train and when it was called I went to the platform and loaded. I had an opposite direction facing window seat, which I thought would make me want to vom everywhere- it didn't. It was a pretty cool ride, 300 km/hr is quite fast! I don't think I've ever gone that fast on land before. The coolest part had to be when we crossed the Great Han River as we arrived into Seoul. It just made me happy, that's all. You can really find anything on Youtube.
The Seoul station subway was a mess; like when you drop too many raisins into your oatmeal. Again they had automated ticket machines which were slightly more confusing than the fancy KTX ones but still manageable. It turns out the st
op I needed was only two stops away! What luck! The subways are wider than they are in Daejeon, which totally makes sense because it's a little more dense, if you know what I mean.
So I got off at my stop and looked at the street map on the wall- the Nakwon Arcade was just a few blocks away, walk straight, take a right, walk straight, and you're there. The building was a little indiscreet, as in, if I wasn't looking for it then I may have just thought it was another concrete multi-level possibly habitable shell. The first store I stopped at was just outside the complex, nice guitars and violins. I said howdy to the shopkeeper and asked where I could find a banjo. He responded somewhat quickly, because apparently there's only one store in the entire place that sells banjos. I understood "second floor" and "to the right" so I walked up to the second floor and quickly turned left- let's take some time to wander. Insert youtube videos here of Nakwon Arcade, that's what I saw. Dozens of little music stores filled to overflowing with sweet accessories, and totally-gnar gear.
Eventually I stumble upon the afore mentioned "second floor to the right" store. The store window displays a plethora of guitars, two banjos, and a banjo guitar. One banjo was a rather shoddy instrument I hardly gave it a once over, but the second banjo was a Hohner... the harmonica company? Yeah, same people.
Here she is!
It was priced at 500,000 kwon, about 450 bucks or something. A pretty good deal considering it retails at $699.99 when it's not on sale. I played in the store for a while and I walked out about 20 minutes later with a new banjo in a beautiful hardshell case, two packs of strings, and some finger picks for 540,000- the case alone should have been another 100,000.
So yeah, it was a fantastic deal. I ended up going straight back to the KTX, caught a train immediately, and was back in my apartment by 5pm pickin' away. What a comfort it is to have a banjo! It's like a small part of me that I left in the USA just decided to show up and hang out and NEVER leave.
So later on Saturday night I met up with some friends, drank a little too much, and played Rockband. Fantastic way to spend a Saturday if you ask me. Check out the catalyst- and the beer cooler.