1 Oct 2012
The shuttle picked me up at 3.45am for my 6am flight. I wonder why I do flights at these ungodly hour, literally before the butt crack of dawn.
My fabulous, amazing parents allowed me to use air miles to get a flight to Seoul on United Air. I have flown United many times and usually they are ok, not brilliant but ok. Well this flight lived up to all the expectations… of other people who say United is shite! The flight attendants looked miserable and never smiled, only offering water once during a 6hr section of the trip. They even refused to help anyone with their bags. So much for it being a customer service based industry. The lunch they served was almost inedible, it tasted like they had warmed the salad up with the “chicken” dish. They had also run out of choices by the time they got to me and the back half of the plane, and of course the only choice they had was the one I didn’t want.
The entertainment was still the old way with the TV in the center of the aisle every few rows, and about 25 people didn’t have any sound… it was a 12 hr flight! But it felt like longer.
Luckily the passengers were super nice in my area, some of them helped me get my bag up into the overhead as the attendant just glared at us. As I got to my seat, I realised there was a couple behind me with a 8mth old little one, named Hudson. My first thought was “blooming hell, 12 hrs with a screaming child”. But then the mom handed out little pieces of paper attached to ear plugs introducing little Hudson and apologizing for nay crying. You can’t be angry when the parents are considerate.
My seatmate was flying her first international flight and was super nervous. She tried to upgrade, even to first, but they refused to let her since she had already boarded, once again United steps up to the plate. She had booked a window seat and been assured she would get one but instead she had the 2nd seat in from the aisle in the 4 seat section. I had the aisle, and I would have switched but I couldn’t do a 12 hr flight in an inside seat.
She was on her way to visit her husband for their anniversary, he is a soldier at the Yongsan Army base in Seoul. We chatted a lot and I helped her through immigration and customs.
As we came through the doors I saw Jamie, I had not seen her in almost 8yrs. We met on a Korea Tourism trip and had stayed in contact ever since. When I told her I was planning to go to Thailand she said I should visit her in Seoul as she would be returning there to do 2yrs at an international school. Sounded like a plan to me and it meant that I could try meet up with Korean friends and hopefully my taekwondo masters.
It was fantastic seeing Jamie and chatting about everything, both good and bad that had happened in the last few months. The shuttle bus took almost an hour to get to her place and then we hopped in a taxi to go the last 10min rather than lugging my bags… I was already sleep walking as it was. After a shower I felt much better and then we headed out for my first meal of Sam Geup Sal (Korean BBQ with thick bacon like pork), my favorite.
Wednesday turned out to be a public holiday so we couldn’t go to Itaewon (the Foreigner area) till Thursday. We spent Wednesday meeting a friend of Jamie’s to help her with an application essay. I was really jetlagged and tired, but after some Donkas (fried pork cutlet) I felt much better. We also went for coffee and a delicious brownie. I ordered an iced coffee and had to pay 200won for the ice, how funny is that!
Then we walked around Namdaemun market (South Gate Market). One of my favorite places from when I lived here. I was still able to find my way around even after 8yrs…
Thursday morning we got up early to find the Thai Embassy in Itaewon. If Jamie had not been with me I would have been lost for sure!! To find the Thai Embassy you go out exit 3 and walk straight until you see, what I termed, the lego building on your left, then turn right and go downhill till you find the embassy on your right.
I went to pull my number noting about 20 people in front of me. As I pulled number 4 the dinnger dinged and showed 4, well that was quick. Less than 5min later we were out the door and I could pick up the visa in the morning. Turned out I couldn’t get the 90 day visa, as I hoped, as the letter from Lotus Divers was not an original.. dangit. But I have a 60day visa and can do a visa run to the immigration office near where I will be staying.
Time for breakfast at a place called Gecko’s, Jamie, being a veggie, ate all the non meat, I cleaned up the rest. Then a treat for ourselves, a pedicure. Bit more expensive than I would have liked but it was fun. Of course in the subway on the way home a lody rushing for the door stood on my foot and took off half the paint on my left big toe. Dammit!!!!
Jamie headed home but I went to meet my 1st Taekwondo Instructor, Master Kim Eun Cheol. I hadn’t seen him in over 8yrs. He had sent me text saying I must go to Jamwon and exit 4. Finding his school again was going to be a miracle, but then again if I can find a curio shop in the middle of Namdaemun market, there was hope. Low and behold I found it. I just walked straight then a left and then there was something about the door across the road that looked right, 3 floors up and woohoo, there was Sindong Taekwondo.
Now, since I had 2 masters during my 3yr stint in Korea, it became easier to describe them as Number 1 and Number 2 when talking to my mom. So for future reference that is how I will write them here.
Number 1 was out of the office when I got there but his assistants, who spoke no English, looked like an honored guest had arrived and scurried around finding me coffee and getting me a chair, it was kind of cute. They called number 1 and he said he was bringing the van and to bring me downstairs. There was much bowing and smiling when they took me to meet him.
I got in the van and it was like we had just seen each other last week. He took me to lunch at a place famous for its beef soup and kimchi, delicious. He showed me pics of his 2 kids and caught me up on all the other masters I had known. He called number 2 who nearly had a heart attack when he tried to give me the phone, as he was terrified of speaking English to me. It was all rather bemusing.
Back at his gym we chatted more and he told me about his second gym he had opened. We planned to get everyone together and meet at the restaurant of one of the masters, Maximus had opened a korean BBQ place and also had a gym. I looked forward to seeing all of them, but wasn’t holding my breath as we all know how busy Koreans can get.
Back at “home” I made Jamie some Pasta Italiano, thanks again to vet Nicola from Italy who taught me the recipe in the jungle of Ecuador. It has been a favorite of all my vegetarian friends.
Visa in my Hot Little Hands
Friday I got an early start and left a note for Jamie. Got to Itaewon and went straight to the embassy. This time I had to wait a whole 2min before it was my turn. What a pretty visa it is, 60days sorted need to make a visa run to Koh Samui at some point to get a 30 day extension.
Then went back to the nail place to have my pedicure fixed, no problem and no charge. The fascinating thing was, that when she switched on the dryer for my toes, there was air blowing. Yesterday there hadn’t been any and I just assumed it was one of those ultra violet type ones… no wonder the pedicure didn’t dry properly.
The Insanity of Myeongdong
Jamie is a bit different to me on the shopping scale. In other words she got the shopping in stores and malls gene while I didn’t, much preferring the open market crowds vs the mall type crowds. She needed to get a few things for winter and so we planned to meet at Myeongdong. I think I have been to this area once, and now I remember why. It was blaring music and signs and lights and people…
Since she was running a little late I went to find a coffee shop, which turned out to be harder than expected. Eventually desperate to get off the insane street I picked a place and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a lemon tea for 5500 won ($5.50). It tasted like hot lemon crystal light with a piece of lemon in it and it looked a rather luminous yellow color. But it was out of the noise and street so I guess that’s what you pay for.
Did You Say Cat Cafe???
Jamie, still recovering from being sick, arrived and looked pretty miserable and sick, but we decided to give shopping a try. As we walked towards H&M I saw a sign for a Cat Cafe… I insisted we go look, Jamie thought it was just some stupid name, but I was certain it was like the ones in Japan I had heard of, where you have a coffee and can sit with a bunch of cats.
After some much needed cat therapy Jamie looked much better and was able to shop all afternoon. Can’t say that I faired very well, but then when we figured out the girls outside the beauty shops were enticing us with free face masks and such I was much better. You don’t have to buy you just have to look. Sounds good to me and I get free stuff… I really have no shame in that department, Jamie felt bad though and bought something in almost every shop.
Stir Fry and a Korean Movie about a Tsunami that wipes out Busan (city in the south).
1 week down another to go. So many things to see and do and friends to meet up with…