Friday, August 11, 2006

Koming to Korea

Ladies and gentleman, jet lag is psychedelic. For almost 2 days now I have stumbled around Korea in a state of extreme mental exhaustion. The cause? A combination of factors that can be broken down into four general categories: 1) Jet lag. 2) You get what you pay for in an $11 per night hostel. 3) Not understanding anything. 4) The only way I have of contacting my friends is by using a pay phone.

But more on all of that in a moment. I'm gonna start from the top and recount things as I experienced them (which may be similar to how they actually happened, but I am not sure). My journey began exactly where I expected it to begin, in San Francisco airport. I know, it would have been a much more interesting story if I had taken off from a different airport than I expected to, but in fact, that part went OK. Said goodbye to mom and dad. Reality was not very similar to the picture shown below. In fact, since we have all been preparing for my departure for so long it wasn't that difficult. It did remind me of jumping off that cliff at South Point, however.

11 hours of flying is hellish under almost any circumstances. I was lucky enough to be seated behind one of the cutest and most playful two year-olds I have ever met. For about an hour of the flight we played with my Nintendo DS case, which happens to look like a frog. For two years old, she could speak quite a bit, and seemed very confused that I didn't speak Korean also. Oh and another thing about the flight. Singapore Airlines is fantastic! I was in coach, but it felt like business class. The flight attendants were really nice, there was more leg room that I am used to, there were 60 channels of movies in 10 languages, the food was restaurant quality and there was a lot of it. And since Singapore Airlines was also the cheapest way that I could find to get to Korea by about $150, I have no complaints. I arrived in Incheon on time, and spent a long time in the immigration line. Got my bags, went through customs and entered Korea. Now, please allow for a minor digression. Last time I was in Korea, I only had a small bag and maybe 3 sets of clothing, none of them very nice. I traveled around the country in a T-shirt and board shorts. That may not have been a good idea. By dressing casual, I ended up looking like I was on leave from the U.S. Army, which is not very popular in Korea. This time, I decided to dress more formally. Collared shirt, leather shoes, long pants. It has made a big difference. People don't avoid me like they did last year. 20 seconds after changing my money into Won, a taxi dispatcher came up and wanted my business. I declined. I went to use a pay phone to call the girls, but before I could even dial, another man came up and started to help me. I guess. He looked at the phone numbers I had and began to call Sohyun on his own cell phone. I offered him a piece of gum to thank him for using his cell phone, and he took the entire package. After telling Sohyun that I was going to take the bus to my hostel, the man offered to take me to the bus stop. He wanted to take my bags, but I was too suspicious to let him take any of them. He led me down stairs to a parking structure, where a car was waiting. At this point I decided I was in a bad situation. He seemed to be some sort of unlicensed taxi driver, since he had a meter but no taxi driver's liscence in his car. I finally learned that a trip to Seoul would cost about 80,000 Won (about $80)! I declined as politely as possible. In other words, I lied. I claimed to be a student, and that I had very little money. Also, my friends were waiting for me at the bus stop, and they would be worried if I didn't show up. He may have been trying to scam me, but he wasn't a bad guy. After hearing my complaints, he gave up and said goodbye. I then proceeded to buy a bus ticket, which was 8,000 Won. I went to what I thought was the right stop, and then showed my ticket to the woman standing next to me. Mrs. Lee, who spoke no English, ended up riding with me until we got to our mutual stop. She had her daughter (who spoke a little more than no English) meet us at the bus stop so that she could help me. They called my hostel and found out where it was, then gave a taxi driver directions for me. I am glad they did, because it was about then that my jet lag really started to make life difficult. The hostel. Well, you get what you pay for. $11 dollars will get you they company of some really, really nice and helpful people. It will also get you a clean but uncomfortable bed. The room is well ventilated, but is 15 feet away from the back of what seems like a very loud and rowdy bar. Internet is free, but there isn't a phone in the building. Basically, for $11 dollars a night, this place is great. But if I had known the state of the bathroom, I would have paid much, much more for a hotel. Firstly, I am allergic to mold, which makes the bathroom a frightening place to be. Second, the “shower” (hose which comes out of the wall on the left side of the toilet) is either scalding hot or freezing cold. Third, the bathroom is so small that you don't really have room to scrub (necessary when it is this humid and water pressure is so low). Finally, everything in the bathroom is gross. In addition to the afore mentioned mold, the once pink bathroom slippers are now pink with black spots. The toilet is...never mind. There is no toilet paper. The water smells like medicine. I really need to find a public bath house.

Moving on. Yesterday I went to Pusan. I got a hold of Lindsey last night and she agreed to meet me at the local subway station and take me to Seoul Station. While waiting for her, I got fumigated with something. I don't know if what they sprayed me with gave me the headache that I have now, or if it is the fact that I haven't really slept very much.

It was really, really good to see Lindsey. She was as cheerful as ever. After 3 hours on KTX, the Korean bullet train, I met Boeun in Pusan. Boeun seemed very healthy and was happy to see me. Her family is moving to Seoul today, so yesterday was her last day in Pusan. I told her that, since we could do anything and I would be happy, we should do what she wanted to do on her last day in Pusan. So we went to Haeundae Beach, the most popular beach in Korea. Here are the things that I found interesting about Korean beaches. First of all, most of the girls at the beach will scream when a wave comes, so there is constant good natured female screaming. Also, the beach is very clean, especially compared to Japanese beaches. It's funny, the beaches in Japan are a little dirty and the streets are mostly clean, the streets in Korea are less well maintained, but the beaches are in great shape. OK, more interesting things about Korean beaches. Lots of umbrellas. Tanning is not popular in Korea (for women, white is beautiful), so there is tens of thousands of beach umbrellas. Finally, no one swims. There isn't even a place to swim. People are not allowed to go out more than 5 meters, which isn't even into the breaking waves. Which would be great for body boarding, by the way. Oh, and lest I forget, there were tens of thousands of people.

It started to rain, so we went to the aquarium. These are Korean otters. This is the “Mermaid Show” that we saw. Basically, it was two blond women doing synchronized swimming with sharks. Um, they are far in the back of this picture.Here is Boeun telling me the story about the castle under the sea. Here is a salamander trying to eat a frog. The frog looks pissed. After the aquarium we went to a simulator ride that would not have been legal in the US. All kinds of crazy shaking, and jarring and the like. Then, we went to lunch and had spicy octopus, a Pusan specialty. Boeun studied some Korean. So this is a picture of the kind of stuff that I ate with Lynn and her family last year. You remember, that time when I really should have had my camera but didn't? Everything in this picture can be served raw, I think. Another shot of Haeundae Beach, after the rain let up. Boeun and I walking along the coast. This is the APEC convention center, where the APEC conference was held last year. Inside. All mother if pearl. My feet.
So, when I learned that Boeun and her family were driving up to Seoul early the next day to unpack their stuff in their new apartment, I decided it would probably be best if I just went back to Seoul. Well, I told this to Boeun, she told her family, and her father bought my return ticket before I even got to the station. I offered to pay him back, but Boeun wouldn't stand for it. I guess the most I can do is say thank you. I also had the pleasure of actually meeting Boeun's father and mother, and I can now say that Boeun looks a lot like her mother. She told me that her mother is always saying that it is true, but that she is more beautiful than Boeun. I don't know about that, and I refuse to take sides in the matter. I learned my lesson from Paris of Troy: never compare the beauty of goddesses. Haha. All sacrilege aside, I was only able to meet Boeun's parents for about a minute because my train was leaving. The train ride home was split into two parts. The first part, where I talked to my neighbor, Mr. Lee, who had served in the army along side the Americans 26 years ago. And the second part, where my lack of sleep made me start to hallucinate and have fits of narcolepsy. I arrived at Seoul Station, and was approached by a homeless man who could speak English fluently. He said that the recent flooding in the countryside has forced him to come to Seoul to look for work, but that he hasn't found a job yet. If he is serious about finding a job, he will have no trouble. With skill in English like that, finding a job should be a lot easier for him. He helped me find my way to the Subway, so I gave him 5,000 Won. Then, still hallucinating, I got to walk back to the hostel. Night time in Korea looks like this: Which didn't help with the hallucinations. Then I called Lynn and we agreed to meet today. I think I am going to meet everybody else on Sunday. I have to call Grace back though. Whenever I call, I have to use this pay phone. I hate this phone. I never have enough money for it. Maybe I should rent a cell phone. o I woke up this morning to find that, while I was sleeping, a girl moved into the room where I am staying. I have no idea who she is, but I will find out when she wakes up.


Mom said...

Hi Son
I read the blog out loud to Zia,Zio,Xavier, and Greg and the dogs. Everyone loves hearing your adventures. Thanks for writing.

Love Mom

Trenton said...

UPDATE: The girl is nice. She is from Washington State and is an English teacher in Japan. We talked. I also met my other suitemate, a Sweede named Marcus who seems really cool and treated me to lunch. My final suitemate is a long term resident. He is studying Korean at Yonsei University right now. I also talked to the manager, who is a really nice woman. She told me all about Korean Cat Fish. Cat Fish, by the way, are awesome. She said her father had one as a pet, and it loves to be petted and will greet you when you enter the room!

Anonymous said...

sounds great thanks for the update