An-nyeong (hello – I think…) from Korea!
I made it safely to Seoul – despite some rough turbulence toward the end of my flight and some mega heart burn upon arrival. As soon as I got off the plane and into the connecting hallway, the humidity hit me. I pulled to the side apart from the stream of passengers and got myself organized, shedding layers of clothing. Despite the 140 lbs of luggage I brought with me, I still wore many layers to bring everything I wanted with me for the year. A long sleeved outfit, sweatshirt, scarf, coat, and fall/winter boots were all a bit much for the 25 degrees or so it was outside when we landed!
I took my time in the airport – it was very big and there was a bunch of walking before I found the entrance to the airport railroad, in the basement. I managed to buy my ticket from a kiosk, and regretfully had to surrender the airport luggage cart before entering the tiny gateways into the rail area. To my dismay, there were just stairs or an escalator down to the railway. I was feeling at a loss when a kind couple travelling from the UK offered to help. They each took one of my big cases while I carried my backpack/athletic bag/purse. They helped me down the escalator, onto the train, off the train, and up the elevator at Seoul Station. I was SO grateful for their help!!!
It took me a long time to find my way out of Seoul Station, even going back today in the daylight I found it very confusing. I followed the elevator signs with taxi pictures and made my way up to an exit. It was pouring rain out, so I pulled my raincoat back out of my luggage and got situated for the short trek outside to the street. When I stepped out of the station, I smelled the sea.
I went down two lengths of ramps and then over a bunch of cobblestones, making my way to the taxi line up. When I made my way around the corner of the taxi shelter, there were five Korean business men standing in a group. They took one look at me soaked from the rain with my 140 lbs of luggage, and rushed to me asking where I needed to go. I handed my hotel itinerary with address to one of them, and right away he flagged down a taxi and climbed in the front seat – helping the driver figure out where I needed to go on his map. Another two helped load my luggage into the trunk/back seat of the taxi, while someone else held the umbrella over my head. He asked me in broken English where I came from and how long I was going to stay. Before helping me into the cab, he said next time – I bring hat (for the rain – hahaha!). It was a quiet drive to the hotel since the driver didn’t speak English, but he parked on the busy street and unloaded my bags for me up to the front door of the hotel. I felt so grateful to be inside and clean up after the long day of travelling. After popping a melatonin I was out for the night, sleeping until after 9:30 am!
This morning I woke up and got ready for the day, collected a map from the front desk, and headed to the information booth down the street. The kind Korean girl there directed me down the street to a “popular spot for foreigners”, Namdaemun Market.
I made my way there to find something to eat. After perusing a couple photos outside a restaurant on the corner aisle of the market, the owner called to me and invited me in. Shortly later, he came back and shoved a menu in my hand. I went inside and pointed to the bibimbap variety they were serving, and he had me sit at a small table with a stool just in the entrance.
I felt awkward enough eating my first foreign meal, so I didn’t take pictures inside except for my food. It’s difficult to describe the experience, but I will try! To my right was a table filled with 8 Korean construction workers all eating their lunch, and a couple across the room. Also to my right was (I’m assuming) the grandma of the establishment, who was cooking open in the room behind a steel counter. The owner was walking from one door to another recruiting hungry customers (including me), while calling out orders, serving and clearing plates. It was very chaotic, but they were so efficient. The customers were mostly eating in silence, so the only chaos was coming from the market outside and the staff.
The first thing he brought me was a plate of kimchi with a big black pair of scissors. I wasn’t sure what to do with just scissors so I just took some time getting situated. When he brought me a bowl of rice (served from a massive pot of rice cooking at the bottom of the stairwell across the small room), I mimed that I needed a spoon. He opened a drawer on the side of the table where there were spoons/forks/chopsticks. I grabbed a spoon and some chopsticks, and I was so hungry I just started eating the rice. He came over with my bibimbap in a huge steel bowl, and almost swatted my hand away. Taking the bowl of rice, he said “like that, you mix” – he poured my rice out of the bowl on top of the bibimbap mixture, and motioned with his hands to use the chopsticks to put everything together.
After I finished eating, I ventured out for a cup of coffee to aid my jet lagged body. The first thing on the Starbucks menu (there is a Starbucks every 100 m here, it feels like) was a Green Tea Latte, and there was mostly cold brew options. I didn’t see any dark roast-type options on the menu, so I just pointed to the drip pour behind the barista when I ordered. It cost a fortune! 4,300 Won, which was the price of an Americano on the menu. I’m not sure if that’s the same thing here as brewed coffee, there were Americano’s available everywhere at market but I will definitely look somewhere else before ordering that again!
The barista on the right of the photo was rhyming off each drink very quickly in Korean as they were handed to her from the person on bar (it was very busy in there, each person was at a different station!). I waited for my size, and after a couple of them weren’t mine, she smiled and said “it’s brew coffee” to let me know mine had finally come – after she had of course announced it in Korean!
Caffeine fueled, I headed for Lotte – a grocery store down the road from the hotel, connected to Seoul Station. It was fun to look around at what is available here for when I will be cooking at my apartment in Changwon. There were sample carts everywhere, every aisle there was someone with a sample talking about what it was.
For the rest of the day, I wandered around some more and stumbled into a night market with food vendors forming a long line going several blocks. Everywhere I walk here, I feel like I am going in the wrong direction since there is always a group of people trying to get around me! For dinner I had a skewer of bbq chicken, and gimbap – seaweed wrapped around rice and some kind of meat. I had bulgogi in my gimbap – which I didn’t like, but I will try it again from another restaurant since it is everywhere here. Thankfully, I also picked some kimchi gimbap in my 6 roll selection – which was delicious!
I got a bit lost on my way back, but thankfully my cell phone GPS was working on the offline map I downloaded and I was able to navigate to the hotel. My beige Skechers flats were comfortable to try on in store, but after walking around in them for the second half of my day, they are soaked with my blood! I had to soak the blood out with toilet paper when I got back (scented toilet paper, by the way – I hope I don’t get a bladder infection). Thankfully, they will live to see another day – if I’m brave enough to wear them again when my wounds have healed 😉
It is very exciting taking in so much new information, but also very tiresome. I am dragging as I write this, but the longer I wait, the more details I will forget about my experience!
I am off to bed, I don’t know how to say goodbye yet and I am too tired to Google it.