South Korea & Shanghai, China
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Korean Ginseng

Korean ginseng is a deciduous perennial herb that reaches a height of 60 to 80 cm, with typical light colored fleshy root. . The root is long and slender and sometimes resembles the shape of the human body. The ginseng stem is erect and deep red coloured. Korean ginseng gives small red berries. Cultivated in moist fields, it is covered by black screens so that it does not get the direct sunlight. The taste of the Korean ginseng root is sweetish at first but with a bitter aftertaste.
Ginseng is cultivated and sold at an age of 1 to 6 years with the premium ginseng being 6 years. It can be purchased as a powder or capsules or the raw root for cooking. The roots of all ages can be seen in large jars outside the shops.
Korean ginseng benefits include an increase in energy and there is evidence that it gives the immune system a boost.

South Korea is impressively progressive with excellent infrastructure. The metro is really clean. If you don’t have a weekly pass, you purchase a ticket which is a plastic card with a chip and then you get a refund by inserting the card in a machine at the destination. The metro trains are very clean with no advertising, although there was a video advert outside the window on an occasion whilst travelling.
Launched in 2004, the KTX train is based on the French TGV high speed train. It runs at 300km per hour and is always on time and it even has free wireless internet on board. On our trip from Seoul to Gyeongju most of the flat countryside was covered in cloches.
All roads are 4 lane expressways or dual carriageway, however, traffic is bad and packed with cars. Even after a 40 minute drive you are still in the suburbs. There are many service stations. Road rules are lax and it’s common to see people using mobiles whilst driving, even on a motor scooter. By law all signage is in Korean and (good) English, with some Chinese now being seen due to the rise in Chinese tourism. In Jeju there are scenic pictures on the electricity cabinets in the streets.

85% of the country is green forested hills. Most people live in high rise flats and they sleep on the floor. Of the 50million population, 80% live in Seoul and its suburbs; 10M live in central Seoul. Categories of shops can be seen on each street and it is generally one type of product per shop, eg a street of engineering with shops of cogs or wheels or motors or chains or bolts.
The young girls all look slim; very few are overweight. They dress very trendily with fashionable high heel shoes. Most wear glasses and some were seem to have false glasses with no lens. The population has dark black hair although some girls dye it brown. There are lots of young girls wandering around in doubles, holding hands, even at night. We also saw many gay couples. We went to a Bennigans fast food restaurant and 98% were female under 30 years. Apparently, the men work late in the office. S. Koreans only get one week’s holiday each year.

It is quite common to see very young children taking photos with their mobile phones. Free wireless, high speed internet is everywhere, with gadgets and mobiles in abundance

En route to Mt Seoraksan we stopped for a break at an expressway services. In the complex was a shop of 'dick-stick’ art - very creative art, it has to be said, but in a public family place....?  Many shops in the Mt Seoraksan have similar penis art, openly displayed.

Shanghai airport. If you are n transit your baggage cannot be checked through so you have to collect it and go through customs and go to the departures to check into your onward flight. In between you queue at passport control and collect a transit stamp in your passport.
The metro is very cheap with an average journey being 4RMB. The trains are long, clean and air-conditioned with open carriages so you could see from one end of the train to the other (if it were empty!). Stations are announced in Chinese and English. Mobile phones have reception throughout the journey. Taxis are also very cheap with a minimum 12RMB for up to km, plus 2RMB for 3-10km and 3RMB for each extra km.
Motor Bikes, Scooters and Bikes are electric and silent. At night many drive with no lights thus making them silent and un-noticeable!. They generally ignore traffic lights. Most days we saw an accident and those involved are not allowed to move their vehicle until the police arrive – so you can imagine the traffic chaos.
Western food and retail chains are more evident than on previous trips – M & S, Tesco Express, Carrefour and B & Q.
The Chinese need to take a lesson from S. Korea and employ a good English speaking person to check their signage.

Vabien II, Seoul – very comfortable, centrally located suites.
Seorak Hotel, Mt Seoraksan – ideally situated but rather shabby
Commodore Hotel, Gyeongju
Seaeas Hotel, Jeju Island – Excellent rooms with own garden. Korean style food
Grand Mercure Hongqiao Hotel, Shanghai. – excellent service and rooms
Recommended restaurants:

Ahudamiro Italian restaurant, Seoul
Shangri La, Jeju – all you can eat buffet fish and sides
Mawon, Jeju – Local black pig bbq’d on the table (see right)
Balthazar Brasserie – in the Tian Zi Fang area of the French Concession, very reasonable cost
Franck in Ferguson Lane, arguably the best French restaurant in town, expensive
Mr & Mrs Bund Restaurant – fabulous view from the terrace over the Bund and Huangpu River
Korean Food is generally spicy, even though they kept telling us that that it is not. Even when our tour guide ordered food ‘without’ spice, it had some in!

Food in South Korea and China is vastly different to Western food so be prepared to see the unexpected, especially in the markets!